14. Elections. Increased Right to Participate in Primary Elections
California's Proposition 14, on the ballot for the June 8, 2010, would make major changes in how citizens get elected to office in California. While it is not without its risks, it is a reform well worth trying. At its core it makes elections less partisan for offices in the State Legislature and U.S. Congress. It takes a step towards the non-partisan model already used in elections for local offices like school boards, city councils, and county boards of supervisors.
Under the current system a primary and a general election are held, with each recognized political party selecting a candidate in the primary. A candidate who comes in second in their parties primary is out no matter how many votes they get. A candidate who wins their primary (and third party primaries are rarely contested) goes onto the general election no matter how few votes they get. Independent candidates (highly discouraged by election rules) also go straight to the general election. This violates basic principles of democracy.
In the new system the two highest vote getters go on to the general election, whatever their parties. In many of the election districts, as they are currently gerrymandered, the likely outcome is either two members of the Democratic Party or two members of the Republican Party. The consensus among political pundits is that this will cause the elections to gravitate towards the center.
For instance, moderate Republicans (often fiscal conservatives who are pro-choice environmentalists) have trouble winning Republican primaries in Republican districts. By coming in second in the primary election, behind the more conservative Republican but ahead of any Democrats, a moderate Republican could be in a position to win the general election by appealing to Democratic voters who can't simply vote the party line.
Voters would need to do more thinking; they would no longer be able to simply rely on party labels printed on their ballots.
Third parties, notably the Green Party, have argued against Proposition 14, asserting a right to have their candidates in the general election. First, this is not a right. Second, Prop 14 creates a major opportunity for independent and alternative party candidates. Using the Green Party as an example (no disrespect to Libertarians, etc.), currently there are very few registered Green Party voters. So in a primary Green Party candidates only get a few votes. This makes them look like losers even as they advance to the general election. If Prop 14 passes anyone can vote for a Green Party candidate in the primary election. Even if the candidate is not in the top 2, they have a much-improved chance of getting out of the under-five-percent ghetto, if they run a strong campaign. Which means they are in a position to do better in the next election.
Also, a Libertarian in a largely Republican district might have a chance of coming in second ahead of the leading Democratic Party candidate. A Green (or Peace & Freedom Party) candidate in a heavily Democratic Party district might come in ahead of the leading Republican.
The main point democracy advocates should be making is that Proposition 14 allows voters to vote for who they want in primary elections. They are guaranteed that the two top vote getters will go head-to head in the general election. Party bosses will lose some power.
Today the Democratic Party dominates the state, and it is ossified. Money and power have created a machine that prevents reform from within. Prop 14 allows insurgent Democrats (and Republicans, and Greens) to gain control of their local party. It won't be easy, but at least it will become possible.
Whether 14 passes or not, the big problems will remain. The California Constitution is a bloated mess. Most money in California politics comes from relatively few rich people. We are saddled with the federal system where are most important decisions are made in Washington, D.C. by representatives of states that are even more befuddled by the modern world than our own representatives are.
If Proposition 14 passes it will not go into effect until the 2012 round of elections. In 2010 we will mostly see the re-election of the same incumbents who got us into the current mess. Except when they are term-limited out and replaced by the next player in line in their party machine.
But in 2012 we would see politicians having to earn the right to be in the general election by getting enough votes. The people of California could begin to be united in the pursuit of excellence in government, rather than divided by moribund political parties. We might begin fixing some of our social and economic problems, instead of leaving them as black energy holes.
Vote Yes on Proposition 14.
Text and Arguments, Proposition 14