CA Prop 14: Unsafe at any but greed?

Winsted, Connecticut native Ralph Nader tells why Prop 14 is good for big business and unhealthy for democracy <read>

Big Business interests shamelessly dealt our already depleted democracy a devastating blow by misleading California voters into approving Proposition 14, without their opponents being able to reach the people with rebuttals. This voter initiative provides that the November elections in that state for members of Congress and state elective offices are reserved only for the top two vote-garnering candidates in the June primary.

There are no longer any party primaries per se, only one open primary. Voters can vote for any candidate on the ballot for any office. Presidential candidates are still under the old system.

Since the two major parties are the wealthiest and have the power of incumbency and favored rules, the “top two” as this “deform” is called, will either be a Republican and a Democrat or, in gerrymandered districts, two Republicans or two Democrats.

Goodbye to voter choices for smaller third party and independent candidates on the ballot in November who otherwise would qualify, with adequate signature petitions, for the ballot. Goodbye to new ideas, different agendas, candidates and campaign practices. The two Party tyranny is now entrenched in California to serve the barons of big business who outspent their opponents twenty to one for tv and radio ads and other publicity.

To seal this voter incarceration by the two-party duopoly, Proposition 14 decreed that even write-in votes in November by contrarian citizens could no longer be counted.

We are not from California and cannot vouch for the details leading to the passage of Prop 14 as articulated by Mr. Nader.  However, we can add to his arguments our vision of the dilemma facing the intelligent voter on primary day: Faced with five, ten, or thirty candidates for an office: Who do you vote for, your favorite, or one you think might have a chance at being in the top two; one that might be more acceptable than others the poll say have a chance? It is just another, perhaps more complex crap shoot.

Nader goes on to articulate the inaccurate information given to voters about the proposition.  And in a side note points to one of the concerns some candidates have with mail-in voting:

The final vote was 53.7% for and 46.3% against. The pro side advertisements, distorted as they were, reached millions of more voters than did the penurious opposition.

Curiously, if the by-mail voters were taken out of the equation, more voters who went to the polls on election day voted against Prop 14 (52%) than for it (48%). Winger suggests this difference may reflect the fact that election day voters benefited from the fuller public discussion of the Proposition 14, including its negatives, in the two weeks before election day.

We attribute much of the misguided voter support of Prop 14 to its place on our “list of good sounding ideas for fighting the last election”.  That is, the list of ideas that sound like they would have cured a recent disappointing result, yet are in reality just a different set of dice for a future crap shoot, with the baggage of untended consequences.

Update: Thanks to VotingNews we have this link to an analysis by a mathematics professor who calls Proposition 14 a Primary Jungle: <read>

This seems reasonable, and a “jungle primary” certainly sounds exciting. But in judging an election system, you must ask how well the system will produce a true societal choice. By that measure, the jungle primary has serious drawbacks…

These are not theoretical concerns.

France’s 2002 presidential election used a system similar to the jungle primary. Because there was a large number of left-wing candidates in the initial round of voting, the unpopular incumbent, Jacques Chirac, and the extremely right-wing Jean-Marie Le Pen led in the polls. Each was supported by fewer than one-fifth of the voters, but that was enough to make them the only two candidates in the final round. There was widespread dissatisfaction with these choices, and slogans such as “vote with a clothespin on your nose” appeared.

Every election system has drawbacks. Because the jungle primary system can prevent large portions of voters from having an acceptable choice in a general election and can determine a winner by something other than voters’ decisions, it seems inferior to the system it replaces and to a traditional open primary. Hopefully, California will discard the top-two primary system and consider different and better options.

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2 responses to “CA Prop 14: Unsafe at any but greed?”

  1. mattw

    I think that Nader should take care not to mistake a reform that harms his preferred electoral strategy (spoiling) with one that suppresses independent candidacies for public office.

    The top-two primary is designed to make sure that two candidates emerge that interest the public, regardless of affiliation. The Green Party of CT was very unhappy in their recent lawsuit, for example, that in Democratic party-dominant districts, Republicans were treated as equals. Well, a top-two system ends that. In a campaign with two Republicans, two Democrats, and one Peace and Freedom candidate, it’s more plausible that the PF candidate would find themselves as a contender on the November ballot than under the old system.

    How one goes about building a new political party from scratch that is electorally viable is a different challenge, and one that neither the government nor Ralph Nader have ever contemplated with any seriousness.

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