Efforts to reform California’s primary election system have been resuscitated with Sen. Abel Maldonado’s (R-Santa Maria) Proposition 14, which will appear on the June 8 ballot.
Prop. 14, as detailed in the California Attorney General summary, overhauls state legislature primary elections by employing a single ballot wherein citizens vote for a candidate regardless of either the candidate’s or the voter’s political party affiliation.
Candidates also have the option of not listing their political party preference. The top two candidates with the most votes -both could potentially be of the same political party – then progress to the November general election.
“If such a proposition were passed, it would effectively eliminate the primary process,” said UC Davis political science professor Josephine Andrews in an e-mail interview. “It is no longer a primary, since by definition, a primary is a vote for a party’s nominee. If all candidates appear on the same ballot, the ‘primary’ becomes, in effect, the first round of a two-ballot contest.”
Under the current electoral system, voters only receive a ballot with candidates of the political party for which they are registered, barring them from voting for candidates affiliated with other parties.
Many, including Maldonado, intended the measure to generate more moderate candidates. Maldonado’s aid, Brian Collins, believes current primaries fail to accomplish that.
“Candidates end up [trying to appeal] to the extreme of the party where the ‘party-faithful’ reside,” Collins said. “Then during the general elections, they have to run back toward the middle. The people that end up winning are much more right or much more left.”
The new electoral reforms seek to put candidates in touch with a larger proportion of voters in a district, said Amanda Fulkerson, communications director for Californians for an Open Primary.
“In order to communicate to the entire electorate, they’re going to have to take positions that the majority of Californians agree with, not just the far right or far left,” she said.
Rep. Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), on the other hand, believes the proposition severely dims the prospects of smaller parties.
“There won’t be minor parties left standing if it passes, because what you will have is the two top vote-getters advancing from the primary to the general election,” Yamada said.
She added that smaller parties’ candidates cannot compete with larger parties’ campaign spending.
Fulkerson said Prop. 14 will grant greater exposure to minor parties as well as California’s 3.4 million independent voters by giving them a chance to appear on the same primary ballot as their big-party counterparts. She highlighted irony of how the two largest parties, Democrats and Republicans, criticize the proposition for its deficient representation of smaller parties.
“It’s surprising to me that all of a sudden [Democrats and Republicans] are worrying about third parties,” she said. “The goal is to get pragmatic people in the capitol who are able to make decisions [and] get things done.”
The means by which lawmakers secured Prop. 14 for consideration harkens back to the 2009 state budget bill, whose passage came to rest solely on Maldonado’s vote. Maldonado opposed the bill because of its tax hikes and cuts to education but promised his vote to Gov. Schwarzenegger in a quid pro quo for two propositions he had authored himself, Collins said. One of those was Prop. 14.
There has been some debate over whether the proposition was written too hastily.
“I don’t think any important policy change should find its way to the voters through extortion,” Yamada said.
Collins attested to the process behind the creation of Prop. 14, but said Maldonado had long dwelled on the measure before bringing it to the attention of key officials.
“He had been kicking this idea around for a while,” Collins said.
YARA ELMJOUIE can be reached at email@example.com.