California voters will decide next Tuesday whether they want real choices in their elections or the limited options afforded them by the two major parties.
Proposition 14, placed on the ballot as part of a political deal involving Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative insiders, would abolish the current system of nominating candidates in party primary elections and then having them run on a fall ballot that features Democratic and Republican contenders as well as Greens, Libertarians, candidates of smaller parties and independents.
The new system would have all candidates of all parties, along with independents, run in the same primary. Then the two top finishers would contend against one another in November. In decidedly Democratic districts, that could mean a "choice" between two Democrats. In Republican-leaning districts, the "choice" could be between two Republicans. In statewide races, more often than not, a Democrat would still face a Republican, but there would be no alternative.
Foes of the initiative, who have organized a "Stop Top Two" campaign, note that, "The top two vote getters, even if both of them get less than 10% and they are from the same party, would advance to the November election."
Worse yet, "Proposition 14 forbids voters from write-in candidates for the November election, so if Top Two passes California voters will no longer have more than two choices in the November election; except for the Presidential race."
That’s a constrained democracy that offers voters less rather than more.
This prospect has raised the hackles of reformers on the left and the right, from liberal stalwarts like state Representative Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, to conservatives like state Senator Chuck DeVore, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate who has earned the backing the of Tea Party activists. The Greens are opposed, and so are the Libertarians.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian newspaper, which can always be counted on to offer a smart, anti-establishment take, is ardently opposed.
The newspaper explains that:
At the height of a royal mess last year when the state budget was long overdue and the two-thirds majority needed to pass it was still out of reach by one vote, Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado struck a deal with Democrats. He said he’d support the budget — if the majority party would meet a few of his demands. One thing he insisted on was Prop. 14 — a ballot measure that would effectively remove political parties from the primary elections process, allowing all voters to cast ballots for any candidate regardless of party affiliation.
Under Maldonado’s plan, all candidates would run on a single primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters would face off in the general election. Heavily funded by the California Chamber of Commerce and marketed by the same spin doctors and corporate lawyers who are rolling in Yes on 16 campaign money, Prop. 14’s backers say it will result in more centrist elected officials.