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.
The Editorial Board of Independent Political Report