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Monday, June 7, 2010

Prop 14 in California

The state of California is desperate, and the voters are ready for any reform. Sometimes, it's just for the sake of reform. That may explain proposition 14. Proposition 14 will create one universal primary for all parties. So, no matter which party you are affiliated you can vote for any of the candidates from any of the parties. Then, the two with the most votes will move out of the primary and into the general election.

The logic behind this system is that primaries cause extreme candidates. By opening the primaries up to everyone you moderate the winner. There are of course problems. First, it renders all third parties completely hopeless. None of their candidates will ever sniff a general election. So, the Free and Equal Campaign, the advocacy group for ballot access, has come out vociferously against the proposition. Here's how Christina Tobin, of the Free and Equal Campaign, described the opposition.

There is no evidence that this type of system helps the polarization problem, it’s almost like the Pro Prop 14 crowd is trying to convince Californians the world is flat.

The newspapers in California have generally come out in favor of the proposition.

In recent days, the debate over Proposition 14, which would abolish California's partisan primaries for most offices and replace them with a system similar to Los Angeles' process for electing its leaders, has turned into a debate over whether it would hurt the viability of third parties. On Saturday, Green Party supporters argued that the measure would go so far as to "destroy" the smaller parties. On Monday, a coalition of opponents raised the level of hyperbole with the bold claim that it would "end democracy in California." It wouldn't. Proposition 14 would allow voters to select their favorite candidate in a primary, just as they do today. The top two finishers would then advance to a general election. The winner would get the office. That's hardly revolutionary. The only difference from today's system is that the primary would include all candidates from all parties, and that the top two finishers in that contest could both be Democrats or Republicans — or Greens, for that matter. In the end, to win the office, a candidate still needs to win the support of a majority of voters.

On the other hand, OC Register columnist Steve Greenhut makes this point against the proposition.

Critics point to Washington state and Louisiana, which have tried this specific type of open primary system. Neither state has seen a reduction in partisanship. So it might not even work as planned. But even if it does create more moderates – more people like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado – how would that help the state? These types of politicians have been the ones least likely to stand up for principle. Most disturbing, the top-two system would destroy third parties in California, which would no longer be likely to field candidates in the general election. This could reduce debate just as the state needs a livelier political discussion.

Governor Schwarzenneger and the California Chamber of Commerce have come out in favor of the proposition while Ralph Nader is one of the biggest names against the proposition.

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