According to proponents of Proposition 62, this initiative would improve voter turnout and give voters more candidates from which to choose, but through analyzing the initiative these claims are questionable.
Its proponents call it an ‘open primary,’ but the term ‘open primary’ was considered deceptive by the attorney general’s office. Hence, the title of the initiative does not use the term.
Like the open primary that California had under Proposition 198 during the 1998 and 2000 primary elections, under this initiative voters would be allowed to pick from any of the candidates on the ballot regardless of whether they were registered with that party.
In order to avoid legal challenges, this initiative would not affect the presidential race nor party committees, but the differences don’t end there.
In addition, unlike the old Proposition 198, this initiative would allow only the top two vote recipients, regardless of party affiliation, to advance to the general election, and that is only assuming that one candidate did not get a majority of the votes in the primary. Otherwise, that person would be elected without a general election.
In essence, this initiative would make every June ‘primary’ election in California a general election with a runoff in November, if necessary.
This is why the term ‘open primary’ was rejected. This poses several problems which actually harm voter choice. First, in the general election, third parties will virtually never get to vote for someone who does not belong to a major political party unless their candidate is one of the top two vote recipients. Third parties will largely become a non-option for voters in the general election.
You don’t even have to support third parties to realize the benefit of having them as an option. In 2002, many voters were so dissatisfied with Bill Simon and Gov. Gray Davis that about 10 percent of voters voted for a third-party candidate.
Proposition 62 would have left these voters without any alternative candidates on the ballot to cast as a protest vote.
Even if you only vote for major party candidates, you may still be stuck voting for the lesser of two evils. In many parts of California (such as Orange County and San Francisco) the top two vote recipients would likely be two Democrats or two Republicans, in which case those in the less popular of the two parties wouldn’t even get to vote for their party much like third party voters throughout the state.
These candidates across all ideologies receive millions of votes every election and the voters who voted for these candidates would no longer have that option, but would have to vote for someone with whom they have little in common.
All of these voters will have less choices and be less likely to vote in the general election. Therefore, this initiative might harm not help voter turnout.
In addition, Proposition 62 would allow only candidates with the party consent to run with party identification on the ballot and other ‘official’ election publications.
This detail would actually give party bosses new powers to allow only their friends to run officially as a Republican or a Democrat, whereas under current law anyone who had been registered under a party before they registered their candidacy can run under the party that they are registered.
If one looks at the examples of this type of ‘primary election’ in action, there isn’t a lot of reason to believe that such a change would make candidates more politically moderate. In France, this system got extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen into the runoff.
In Louisiana, this system got David Duke onto the general election. This system simply doesn’t ensure more moderate candidates.
For all the positive rhetoric of this initiative, it doesn’t solve the fundamental problems in elections in the United States.
As Shawn Steel, former chairman of the California GOP, has noted, as long as legislative districts in California remain as they are, the Democrats will continue to control a majority of the state legislature and the House seats in California.
Even with nonpartisan redistricting, like in Iowa (which Davis recall founder Ted Costa has proposed), you still would be stuck with a voting system that creates spoiler candidates.
Without moving to another voting system as proposed by UC Irvine’s Donald Saari, we will always have to deal with the problems inherent in our voting system.
Shawn Augsburger is a fifth-year history major.
Filed Under: Opinion