Amid the hoopla over incumbents being booted in primaries and debate over the impact of the Tea Party in elections, an important development earlier this month that could change the shape of elections — and hopefully of politics — has been largely overlooked. California voters approved open primaries, which promise to diminish the influence of the fringes of parties and favor candidates who cater to the center of the electorate.
The success of Proposition 14 means that elections in the state will feature a primary where all candidates for an office compete against each other and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, move on to the general election. The system is modeled after Washington state’s “top two” primary system that has passed muster with the U.S. Supreme Court.
California has often been in the forefront of major transformations, namely the anti-tax and environmental movements. Combined with the adoption via ballot measure of serious redistricting reform in 2008, the state is now a leader in election reform. Reforms such as ending “Gerrymandering” and taking the redrawing of districts out of the hands of politicians, opening primaries, improving ballot access, and campaign finance reform can make elections more competitive, reduce the influence of special interests, improve the prospects of centrist candidates, and ultimately increase the interest and involvement of voters.
Some third-party and Independent advocates have argued that open primaries will hurt the prospects of their candidates because they will not be guaranteed a spot on the general election ballot. Yeah, like the traditional system has been so beneficial to campaigns outside of the two major parties. Have I missed all the Independents who are sweeping into office? Seriously, having your name on the general election ballot doesn’t mean much if you are running against candidates who have the full backing of the major parties, as evidenced by all the Independent candidates who hover at the one percent mark and usually only receive attention as “spoilers.”
Independent and third party candidates have a better chance in an arrangement where multiple candidates split the major party vote. I ask myself a simple question: If open primaries are such a boon to the major parties why were they the biggest opponents of the California initiative? The trick will be ensuring that ballot access requirements are such that they do not preclude viable Independent and third-party office seekers.
Here is my list of 14 reasons (in no particular order) why the passage of Prop. 14 is a positive development.
- Voters will have more choices because they won’t be limited to just candidates from the party they are registered with.
- Think of the fun Jay Leno can have with this. He needs all the help he can get.
- Elections will be more competitive (especially in conjunction with redistricting reform).
- Voters will be more interested, and more likely to vote, in primaries that are more competitive.
- The extremes of the parties will hold less sway because candidates will have to appeal to voters outside of their party.
- Compared to the 2003 gubernatorial recall election no open primary will look nearly as chaotic.
- A broad coalition of supporters including the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, California Business Roundtable, California Police Chiefs Association, AARP, California Farm Bureau Federation, and California Forward defeated a well-financed opposition that included the parties.
- The Governator got a big win.
- Special interests like the state teachers union got a rare loss.
- It should make for some interesting primary debates.
- Of course parties will try to hold “invisible primaries” to anoint a candidate and clear the field ahead of the primary, but good luck with that.
- Abel Maldonado may be the future of the CA GOP.
- If California can pull this off, then any state can.
- Moderate voters will be courted in primaries for once.