Editorial: IPR Opposes Proposition 14 in California

Slowly, painfully, the movement to improve ballot access for minor parties and independent candidates has been winning. States in which ballot access is significantly better than it was in 1980 are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming, and also the District of Columbia.

But, ballot access is disastrously worse in the state of Washington. This can largely be blamed on Initiative 872, a measure approved by the voters of Washington in 2004, which was used for the first time in 2008. As a result, for the first time since Washington became a state in 1889, there were no independent or minor party candidates on the November ballot for either Congress or statewide state office–a major step backwards, both for fair and open elections and for ballot access reform advocates. Initiative 872 mandated that only the candidates who place first or second in the primary may be on the general election ballot.

In Washington state in 2004, 45 minor party candidates filed for office, because they had a good chance of appearing on the general election ballot. That was under Washington’s old classic open primary. But under the top-two system, in 2008, only 12 minor party candidates even bothered to file, because they knew that in almost all cases, they had no chance to be on the November ballot. They hated to waste their filing fee money when they faced a certainty of being washed out of the general election campaign season.

Now the Washington-style system is threatening to be enacted in California. The California version is even worse than the Washington system, where candidates can at least choose any party label they wish to appear on the primary ballot next to their names. Additionally, if a party isn’t ballot-qualified, it can still place its presidential nominee on the November ballot with only 1,000 signatures in Washington.

By contrast, if California’s Prop. 14 passes, the only way a minor party will be able to remain ballot-qualified, and to at least have its presidential nominee on the ballot, will be to have approximately 100,000 registered members. Prop. 14 deletes the existing method by which parties remain qualified, that they poll 2% for a statewide race in a midterm year (they get a free ride in presidential years). So the only method left is that they have registration of 1% of the last gubernatorial vote, which will probably be at least 100,000 after November 2010.

Supporters of Prop. 14 can’t come up with any pro-democracy reason to vote for the measure, except that it lets independents vote in all primaries as a matter of law. But already, independent voters in California are free to vote in any Democratic or Republican primary for Congress or state office. So already, independents in California are treated better than registered Republicans or Democrats. Registered Republicans can only vote in the Republican primary (although anyone can switch parties 2 weeks before the primary), and the same goes for Democrats. But independents on primary day can choose which major party primary to vote in. Proponents of Prop. 14 are always pointing out that the primary means more than the general, in most legislative and US House districts, because most of the districts are strongly Democratic or strongly Republican. But any independent voter who can figure that out, is free to choose the primary ballot of the dominant major party. The idea that independent voters in California are abused doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Furthermore, proponent of Prop 14 have suggested that their system will result in more moderate candidates being elected–but history and experience do not support this claim. In Louisiana’s 1991 gubernatorial election, an open primary was held, very similar in structure to the one Prop 14 suggests, which resulted in the advancement of two extreme candidates. The runoff election was between David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the KKK, and Edwin Edwards, the corrupt incumbent governor. More centrist candidates, Buddy Roemer and Clyde C. Holloway, missed the runoff. More importantly, in the general election there were only the two options–resulting in a pathetic election and humorous bumper stickers that read, “Vote for the Crook, It’s Important” and “Vote for the Lizard, Not the Wizard”.

FairVote did an extensive analysis of the claim that Prop 14, or it’s Washington or Louisiana counterparts, result in moderation, which can be found here. Richard Winger has also done some important reporting on the subject here.

The measure is sometimes referred to as “Top Two”, and for good reason, it wants to limit voter’s choices in November to only the top two, instead of giving them the full range of electoral choices that should be available to them.

In the meantime, corporations and politicians are funneling money towards the Prop 14 effort by the millions. Third parties and their activists don’t have access to that kind of money, but they do have access to the truth about Prop 14, thanks to the hard work of activists like Christina Tobin and Richard Winger. We at Independent Political Report stand with the Free and Equal Elections Foundation, Californians for Electoral Reform, and the Coalition for Free and Open Elections against Prop 14.

Signed,

The Editorial Board of Independent Political Report

29 thoughts on “Editorial: IPR Opposes Proposition 14 in California

  1. Nancy Hanks

    “Slowly, painfully, the movement to improve ballot access for minor parties and independent candidates has been winning…”

    Fair enough! What about improving access for independent voters? If we are to have innovative solutions to our current social/ political problems, ordinary people must be at the table.

    NH
    The Hankster

  2. Rachel H

    @Nancy –

    What do you mean? Easier ballot access means more choice for all voters.

    Or do you mean that you want more Independent candidates?

    If so, run.

  3. Trent Hill Post author

    Nancy,

    As this article states, Prop 14 doesn’t expand access to Independent voters, since they already have access to both major party primaries.

  4. Green Party fan

    Excellent Opinion piece.

    Would make one positive contribution.

    In Virginia for over a decade George R. “Tex” Wood a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, 9th Congressional District Chairman of the Independent Green Party of Virginia spent his own money, his own time, and representing himself in court fighting for ballot access.

    Tex’s achievements are many.

    Thanks to Tex Wood’s work along with many others including the every hard working Richard Winger Virginia’s ballot access requirements (though still brutal for statewide races) were reduced. Petition circulators – as long as they are citizens of the Commonwealth – can collect signatures any where in the state in a state wide race.

    It’s great patriots like Tex Wood that have expanded ballot access for over 7 million Virginias through years and years of work in and outside the Green Party.

  5. Nancy Hanks

    Trent Hill — yes, that’s my fear. If the parties can tell voters whether they can or cannot vote in primaries, the party elite control the election. As an independent, I think everyone should be able to have a voice in the first round of voting.
    NH

  6. Green Party fan

    A little star dust never hurts the Green Party..

    Great Green Party news…

    Russell Crowe donates $10,000 to Green Party, gets own star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame From: NewsCore March 30, 2010 3:09PM

    Crowe all set to be walked on

    Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe will be recognised with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of…

    Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame … Russell Crowe, pictured as Robin Hood in his upcoming film, will be honounred at a ceremony on Hollywood Boulevard on April 12.

    GLADIATOR star Russell Crowe, whose political leanings have always been kept quiet, has donated AU$10,000 (US$9,166) to the New South Wales Green party, The Sydney Morning Herald reported Tuesday.

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/movies/russell-crowe-donates-10000-to-green-party-gets-own-star-on-hollywoods-walk-of-fame/story-e6frf9h6-1225847529626

  7. Christina Tobin

    Proposition 14 cuts everybody out of the elections process for 6 months. The candidates with the most wealth will be the only two candidates campaigning.

    The constitutionality of this issue is still undetermined. The US District Court decision in WA is pending.

    If the top two is such a good system, then how come no other county uses it?

    Thank you for this post IPR.

  8. Green Party fan

    Christina Tobin…

    Thank you for your noble, and dedicated work.

    Your article on this subject was outstanding.

    We are all wishing you great success in this years campaign..

  9. Richard Winger

    Thank you, Nancy Hanks, for contributing to this discussion. I have high regard for you for doing that.

    Last time we talked on the phone, I asked you how you would feel if outsiders (like me) demanded the right to vote for officers of Independent Voice, or CUIP, or Independent Voting. Who gets to vote on who will be the public face of the group? Who gets to vote on what the organization will work on? Your group has considerable influence, even power. Your group has a in with CNN, and with the Huffington Post. Not everybody inside your group agrees that Prop. 14 is good policy, so how does CUIP decide whether to push Prop. 14 or not? I agree that outsiders like me should not be allowed to vote for CUIP officers or CUIP policies.

    And why wouldn’t it empower independent voters in California to get a Moderate Party on the ballot in California? With all the money being spent to promote Prop. 14, if that money had been spent to ballot-qualify a Moderate Party, or something else that resembles the Independence Party of New York city (which your group has great influence in), wouldn’t that give independents in California more power?

  10. Trent Hill Post author

    I was going to reply, but I think Richard Winger covered the bases pretty well.

  11. Dear .......oops!

    Christina Tobin // Mar 30, 2010:
    “14 cuts everybody out of the elections process for 6 months. The candidates with the most wealth will be the only two candidates campaigning ……..”

    Well, I have distrusted both Democans and Republicrats since 1960. Years later one of my first votes was write ins for ‘Mickey Mouse’ and ‘Goofy Dog’.

    On the west coast, I guess those days are back again ……….. Lake

  12. Deran

    From up here in WA State I can tell you the “top two” one primary for all system has not been the friend of third parties, nor independent candidates.

  13. Robert Milnes

    The problem here is the always in charge reactionaries-in the usa that is dems & reps. They dole out freedom like misers. Progressives & revolutionaries are constantly begging for more. sometimes there is blowback & they get less. The solution is to vote in a progressive government. Liberal demlocrat Obama is NOT a progressive. Even if he was he still hs to contend with reps, Reagan democrats & reactionary courts. PLAS/FET/FDS. A progressive government with full libertarian inclusion would never legislate less freedom. It would begin to appoint progressive & libertarian judiciary. Start with 2010. Set up 2012 PLAS presidential ticket.

  14. Gary

    May Abel Maldonado rot in Hell for all time with devils sticking pitchforks in his ass.

  15. Timothy Yung

    You know that Louisiana example is a great one. If I was stuck with those two bad choices I would actually have to go with David Duke but hopefully something like that doesn’t happen in California. Does Louisiana still have a top-two primary? Actually come to think of it David Duke would still be better than Barack Obama or John McCain that just shows how bad the two-party duopoly is.

  16. Richard Winger

    Louisiana gave up its top-two primary for Congress, starting in 2008. But Louisiana still uses it for state office. However, the Louisiana version, for state office, isn’t as bad as the one proposed in California and in use in Washington. In Louisiana, the first round is an election. In other words, it can and usually does elect someone. Louisiana says if one person gets 50% or more, that person is elected and there is no second round. So at least the first event has the dignity of being an election. Also Louisiana has all its state elections in odd years. In Washington and California, the first round has no function except to eliminate candidates from the November ballot. Even if someone gets 100% of the ballot in a Washington or California first round, that person is still not elected and runs in November. Washington and California do it this way because otherwise they would be breaking an old federal law that says states must hold congressional elections in November. Under the California proposal, if only one person files for the office in March, and gets 100% of the vote in June, there is still an election but that person cannot be defeated in November because he or she would be the onl person on the ballot, and write-ins could not be counted.

  17. Trent Hill Post author

    “If I was stuck with those two bad choices I would actually have to go with David Duke but hopefully something like that doesn’t happen in California. Does Louisiana still have a top-two primary? Actually come to think of it David Duke would still be better than Barack Obama or John McCain that just shows how bad the two-party duopoly is.”

    I disagree with this statement. However, the Duke that ran for Governor in 1991 claimed to have quit the KKK and white supremacism. This is part of the reason he did so well–he emphasized the culture war issues (affirmative action especially) and spoke in terms of a class war, instead of a race war. Many people were convinced he had hung up his robes–and it turns out he had, but he was still a pretty committed white nationalist.

    It was a travesty that that man was once an elected representative to the Louisiana House.

  18. cajun independent

    Is being a “moderate” really the litmus test for success here? Why isn’t the test “independent”? “Moderate” is a vapid word, meaning nothing. It seems most often “moderate” is a code word for “status quo,” the kind of candidates supported by the RNC & DNC. E.g. “moderate” Trey Greyson vs “radical” “extreme” Rand Paul.

    If you want candidates who are *independent* of the RNC & DNC, Louisiana’s experience has been pretty good. Duke may not have been “moderate” but he was certainly independent of the RNC. Gov. Roemer, elected in 1987, was so independent of the DNC that he switched parties. He was backed by the RNC in 1991 and lost.

    Republican Gov. Treen worked well with and had strong alliances with Democrats in the legislature and supported a windfall profits tax on the oil companies, something that is certainly independent of RNC orthodoxy. Democrat Gov. Blanco was pro-life, another rather independent position to take.

    Jindal is the exception that proves the rule, unfortunately. He is a loathsome tool of the RNC and was only able to win after Louisiana was terrorized by the feds during Katrina and hundreds of thousands of Democrat voters were bussed to other states.

    I’d like to see a breakdown how often the La. state lege votes purely along party lines vs other states. That would be another good test of how well the nonpartisan primary/runoff produces independent-minded candidates rather than partisan hacks.

    (PS. Despite the deficiency of Winger’s arguments on this point; the provisions restricting ballot access for the Presidential race are indeed a poison pill for this Calif. Prop.)

  19. cajun independent

    In Washington and California, the first round has no function except to eliminate candidates from the November ballot. Even if someone gets 100% of the ballot in a Washington or California first round, that person is still not elected and runs in November.

    That is indeed a ridiculous provision. I didn’t realize that was the case in Wash. and Calif.

    Washington and California do it this way because otherwise they would be breaking an old federal law that says states must hold congressional elections in November.

    Yes, before La. changed the law for federal elections, the general election for Congress was held in Nov., and any necessary runoff was held in Dec. I think it’s still this way, it’s just that only one person from each party can run in November. Georgia still requires a majority vote and has runoff Conressional elections in Dec. , IIRC.

  20. Trent Hill Post author

    d.eris,

    Not for a long time. Not since I became senior editor, I don’t think.

  21. Richard Winger

    Louisiana no longer has run-offs in the general election for Congress. That is why in the New Orleans district in 2008 in the general election, the Green candidate, Malik Rahim, “spoiled” incumbent Democrat William Jefferson’s re-election. Republican nominee Cao won with less than 50% of the vote, because Rahim got 2.82%, the balance of power.

  22. cajun independent

    You’re right! A shameful cave-in to Washington-backed norms on the part of the Louisiana political class on that one! Plurality elections are a travesty.

  23. paulie

    Have there been any previous IPR editorials like this one on a given issue? Just wondering.

    Not formally, as far as I can recall.

  24. d.eris

    Interesting. fwiw, I’d vote for more such pieces and experimentation with the form, time and energy permitting. It could potentially really drive discussion throughout the third party and indy web, maybe even affect coverage in the mainstream media. For instance, following GPW and Green Change’s pieces on the Green Party media blackout, the Huffington Post (IL?) suddenly began covering Whitney in its political reporting.

  25. Steve Rankin

    #15: “I would actually have to go with David Duke…”

    You’ve gotta be kidding. Would you go to federal prison with him? That’s where he later went… and for that matter, Edwin Edwards, his runoff opponent in the ’91 governor’s race, is still in prison. Edwards won with 61%, incidentally.

    Aside from all else, Duke is a self-centered jerk. A friend of mine did some work for him, and Duke cheated him out of his fee.

    In the ’91 campaign, in response to NBC’s Tim Russert, Duke was unable to name Louisiana’s top three industries.

    Duke ran for US senator in 1996 and got a massive 11% of the vote.

    #18: Since Gov. Edwards declined a runoff in 1987, Buddy Roemer became governor after getting just 33% of the vote. In office, Roemer (1) got divorced, and (2) flip-flopped on the abortion issue, both very damaging in heavily Catholic Louisiana. He thought he was getting a “fresh start” by switching parties, but he finished third in 1991 and fourth in 1995.

    The ’95 runoff for governor featured Mike Foster, a white conservative Republican, and Cleo Fields, a black liberal Democrat (now-US Sen. Mary Landrieu had finished third). Foster won with 66%.

    That’s another problem with the “top two open primary” monstrosity: It enables extreme candidates like Duke and Fields to squeak into the runoff, where they get shellacked. If Louisiana had had party primaries, it’s highly unlikely that either Duke in ’91 or Fields in ’95 would have even been in the final election– especially since, when LA has party primaries, 50%-plus is required to win a primary.

    #18: Bobby Jindal was elected governor in 2007 without a runoff, getting 54%. He only lost by 52% to 48% in the 2003 runoff.

    See here for more on this topic (see especially “History” and “Louisiana System”).

    This piece was written during California’s and Washington state’s 2004 “top two” initiative campaigns (Prop. 62 lost in 51 of California’s 58 counties).

    Incidentally, in 2008, just under 66 percent of Oregon voters said “NO” to M65, a measure for a “top two open primary.” It lost in every single county.

  26. Steve Rankin

    If Louisiana had had party primaries in 1991 and 1995, the only way David Duke and Cleo Fields could have reached the general election ballot would have been if they had run as independents.

  27. Richard Zierdt

    The editorial asserts: ” But independents on primary day can choose which major party primary to vote in.” But the editorial does not say how this is accomplished. Does the independent voter become a dependent one for one day?

    No voter should ever have to register as a member of any party to vote. By enacting election laws based on party affiliation, partisan politics has become state-supported partisanship. The State should have no interest in a candidate’s political party membership, nor should it be mentioned on the ballot.

  28. Michael Seebeck

    Fine, Richard, then let’s eliminate political party affiliations and even names from the ballot and let people vote on resumes instead and see who wins. (not a bad idea, really)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *