Prop 14 would ban party primaries, allow candidates to run without disclosing party, ban write-in candidates, and allow a general election run-off between two candidates in the same party
June 2, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) - A recent poll shows 60% of voters support Prop 14, the so-called “open primary” initiative on the June 8 ballot. But the measure goes far beyond “open primary” measures elsewhere. Opponents say most people don’t understand the implications of the measure, which is opposed by both the Democratic and Republican parties in California as well as minor parties including the Libertarian, Green and Peace & Freedom Parties.
The law would eliminate party primary races. Instead, candidates from all parties would run in a single primary that is open to all registered voters. The top two vote-getters would then compete in the general election—even if the top two are in the same party. So voters could face a general election with only two Republicans, or only two Democrats.
In conventional open primaries, by contrast, each party conducts its own primary election, but voters may choose which party ballot to request. In California, current law allows parties to decide whether or not to allow independent voters to request the party’s ballot or not. In 2008, Democrats allowed this, but Republicans did not.
The new initiative goes much farther. Candidates would not be required to list their party affiliations on the ballot, meaning voters might have no idea what party affiliation they are voting for. Opponents complain that the process would also leave room for a party to manipulate the process by organizing votes for a weak opponent to the party’s leading candidate. Minor parties argue that the system would break their parties completely, leaving no chance for their candidates to even appear on the ballot in a general election. The measure also prohibits write-in candidates in general elections, sharply restricting voters’ choices.
Supporters’ main argument is that the process would produce more “moderate” candidates, though there is no evidence that this has occurred elsewhere. Supporters have also argued that the measure could improve voter turnout among nonpartisan or independent voters. But evidence suggests the opposite. In Hawaii, primary turnout fell from 74.6% to 42.2% after changing to open primaries.
The measure was put on the ballot as a concession to State Senate Abe Maldonado, who insisted that the Legislature vote to put the initiative on the ballot as a condition for Maldonado casting the deciding vote for the budget. Prop 14 is supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. More than $2 million in funding came from a “California Dream Team” of funds raised by Schwarzenegger. The measure also has huge financial backing from insurance, hospital and corporate interests.
"Proposition 14 will actually increase the costs of political campaigns in California, already the most expensive in the nation, which will give more power to the very same special interests and big contributors who want you to vote for Proposition 14," said John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party.
California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring said, “This measure will contribute to the further political Balkanization of California. It will limit voter choice.”
If the measure passes, both parties may consider switching to a caucus system similar to that used in Iowa to elect candidates.