Prop 62 would squelch innovation in state politics
October 13, 2004 - Richard Winger in the San Jose Mercury News
A well-meaning group of former and current office holders has placed the ``Voter Choice Open Primary,'' Proposition 62, on our ballot.
They say it will make the Legislature work better by enabling more moderates to win office. The results of recent elections suggest otherwise. And worse, Proposition 62 will trample on the rights of minority parties, a vital source of fresh political thinking.
Proposition 62 provides that in elections for Congress and state office, all voters would receive the same ballot in the June primary. The ballot would contain all the candidates for those offices, regardless of party. Then, only the top two vote-getters would appear on the November ballot.
The Proposition 62 backers are mostly the same people who placed Proposition 198 on the 1996 ballot. Proposition 198, the ``blanket primary,'' put into effect the same primary ballot suggested by Proposition 62.
The only difference was that Proposition 198 let the top vote-getter from each party into the November ballot, instead of just the top two candidates. The ``blanket primary'' was used in the primaries of 1998 and 2000, and then later in 2000 was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Proposition 62 backers say their system would elect a more moderate set of legislators. But all of our state legislators who held office during the 1999-2002 period had been elected in the blanket-primary system, as was Gov. Gray Davis in 1998.
Partisanship was just as rife then as it had been earlier.
Proposition 62 backers claim that the current primary system makes it impossible for moderates to win statewide primaries. They say Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could not have won a semi-closed primary. Recall-election data shows how wrong that is.
Approximately 3.5 million registered Republicans voted in the recall. Conservative Republican Tom McClintock received 1.2 million votes, whereas Schwarzenegger, perceived as a moderate Republican, received 4.2 million. It is obvious that most Republicans who voted cast a vote for Schwarzenegger, not McClintock.
Proposition 62 backers also say the current semi-closed primary system is unfair to independent voters. However, independent voters are now free to choose either a Democratic or Republican primary ballot. An independent in an overwhelmingly Republican district is free to choose a Republican primary ballot.
The worst aspect of Proposition 62 is that it confines the general-election ballot to only two candidates. Californians would have fewer choices on their November ballots for Congress than the voters of any other state. The 700,000 members of minor parties would virtually never have anyone from their own party to vote for in November.
This is not only unfair, it is probably unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued nine opinions that struck down state election laws that kept minor-party and independent candidates off the November ballot.
Minor parties raise new ideas and test their voter appeal. Virtually all important innovations in government policy were first publicized by minor parties.
Proposition 62 aims at the wrong target. What California needs to make our congressional and state elections more competitive is reform of redistricting. Proposition 62 does not provide redistricting reform. It will do more damage than it does good.
RICHARD WINGER is editor of Ballot Access News (www.ballot-access.org), a non-partisan newsletter reporting on difficulties facing candidates trying to get on ballots across the country.