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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Debate on the "Open Primary"

On June 8, Californians will vote on Proposition 14, a ballot measure for a Louisiana-style "top two open primary." This has fueled another round in my perpetual debate with Jim Riley of Texas on this issue. Below is an excerpt from our latest exchange; Jim's comments are italicized. Prop. 14 was triggered by state Senator Abel Maldonado, a nominal Republican who more recently has been nominated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to fill the vacant lieutenant governorship.

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“Under Proposition 14 candidates from all parties and independents will appear on the June primary (sic) ballot where all voters… will be able to vote for the person they believe will best represent them.”

Yes, and since this is just a preliminary election, a voter will hope that his favorite candidate survives and makes it to the November ballot. If not, he then can only vote for the “lesser of the evils,” both of whom may be from the same party.

“… for these statewide offices, Congress, and the legislature, there will always be a runoff, even if one candidate happens to receive a majority in June.”

Right. So a candidate could get 100% of the vote in June and then be defeated in November– which is ridiculous. As I’ve said before, I’m convinced that if Washington state is permitted to continue using the “top two,” it will ultimately have to hold the first round for Congress on the first Tuesday in November; if the state wants to have a runoff for Congress, it will have to be at a later date.

“Parties will be free to support candidates in both the primary (sic) and general election, just like they do now.”

And what will happen when the two final candidates are from the same major party? Will the other major party endorse the “lesser of the evils”? And what will the small parties do in such a situation? For that matter, what will the small parties do when the final choice is one Democrat and one Republican?

“… [a candidate will] be able to take his case for election to all the voters.”

This will give an advantage to the big-money candidates, especially in a large state like California, in which paid media is already so crucial in campaigns. In order to have a chance to advance to the November election, a party-affiliated candidate will have to communicate with ALL the voters– instead of just his party’s voters.[1]

The top two vote-getters will thus have to finance and conduct TWO general election campaigns, which, again, will give an even greater advantage to the candidates with the most money. This will discourage people without big bucks from even running.

“The basic idea is to have an election open to all voters and candidates that then reduces the field…”

Propostion 14 (“Maldonado’s Folly”) would reduce the field all right– to just two candidates, both of whom may be from the same party. Why should the voters be limted to just two choices in the final, deciding election?

You say you wouldn’t mind it if more than two candidates could move on to the November ballot. But the reality is that you’re stuck with the California proposal, which would only permit the top two finishers to advance.

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[1] In California's current system of party primaries, registered independents are eligible to vote in either the Democratic or the Republican primary for state and congressional offices; thus independents have more options than registered party members. Also, a voter may change his registration up until 15 days before the primaries.

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