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Free Citizen

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

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

California Voters Pass "Open Primary"

On June 8, California voters enacted Proposition 14, a measure for a Louisiana-style "top two open primary."[1] Complete but unofficial returns show it with 53.8 percent of the vote.

The Golden State has used a similar system for its county and municipal elections for nearly 100 years, and Prop. 14 will affect state and congressional elections. The only other states with such a system are Washington and Louisiana. Washington first used it for its state and congressional elections in 2008, while Louisiana has used its "open primary" for state and local elections since 1975. The Bayou State is in the process of restoring the "open primary" for its congressional elections.

A comparable ballot measure, Proposition 62, lost in California in 2004, despite Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's support, and he evidently held a grudge about that. Spearheading Prop. 14, the governor raised more than $4.5 million for it, enabling backers to outspend opponents 20 to 1. Also, the state's major newspapers were almost unanimous in their advocacy of the measure, and they gave little space to those on the other side.

All six of California's registered political parties opposed Prop. 14. It will be particularly harmful to the state's four small parties, who will ultimately lose their ballot-qualified status. The final choice in the "top two open primary" is nearly always one Democrat and one Republican, two Democrats, OR two Republicans. Californians will rarely see any independents or small-party candidates on their November ballots, except for president.

Another downside to this measure is that write-in votes will not be counted.

There will definitely be federal litigation against Prop. 14, which is almost certainly unconstitutional for congressional elections. A line of rulings from the U. S. Supreme Court has established that any candidate who has met a prior vote test of five percent is entitled to be on the November ballot for Congress. Prop. 14, however, sets a threshold of 25 percent for a candidate to be on the November ballot.

I am wondering how many Californians know about the trial that Washington state's "top two" is facing in U. S. district court in November. That state's system will also be subjected to litigation in the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Richard Winger, a Californian who publishes Ballot Access News, says, "[There will be] no one on the November ballot but Democrats and Republicans, no write-ins counted. We know top-two works this way because that is how it worked in Washington state in 2008. I will not be voting in midterm general elections in California any longer, if Proposition 14 is upheld, and I suspect thousands of other Californians feel the same way."


[1] All candidates, including independents, are listed on a single ballot. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the runoff. Louisiana has a runoff only when no candidate receives 50-plus percent in the first round. Washington state and California, in contrast, always have a second round of voting; thus it's possible for a candidate who gets 50-plus percent in the first round to be defeated in the runoff.


Blogger Krist Novoselic said...

Good information.

Prop 14's win is disappointing. But it's funny how things can work out in the long run. The legal challenges can still shape this thing.

A December runoff for federal races would be very, very unpopular in Washington.

We'll see what happens in Washington with the November I-872 trial regarding associational issues. The problem is with the Democratic and Republican plaintiffs. They want a return to partisan primaries. I think that California voters rejected partisan primaries more than supported Prop 14. (There's the "moderate candidate" claim too, I know.) The WA dominant parties are delusional if they think state voters will stand for a nominating primary again.

It will be interesting to see the evidence of harm submitted by the three plaintiffs in the I-872 trial.

Wed Jun 09, 12:51:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Bob Richard said...

Please name one or more of the federal cases establishing that if you have 5% support you have to appear on the November ballot. Also, why weren't these cases invoked in the facial challenge to the Washington law?


Thu Jun 10, 02:40:00 PM CDT  

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