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California Forward Publishes Report in Favor of Proposition 14

Published on April 5, 2010, by in General.

California Forward was formed in 2006 by some centrist political and business leaders. It is headed by former Democratic Assembly Speaker Robert M. Hertzberg, and Thomas V. McKernan, head of the Southern California Automobile Club. It recently released a report backing Proposition 14, the “top-two” primary measure. The report was written by political consultant T. Anthony Quinn and Professor R. Michael Alvarez and can be seen here. The Report itself is 33 pages and the Appendices are another 18 pages.

The Report emphasizes that Proposition 14, if passed, will increase voter turnout. To support that point, the Report has two tables, Table One and Table Seven, both of which purport to show that primary turnout was better in California in the “blanket primary” years, 1998 and 2000.

Tables One and Seven both omit the presidential primary of 2008. The omission makes it appear as though the best primary turnouts in recent California history both occurred in the two blanket primary years. Table One, on page 7, lists primary turnout in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, and the June 2008 primary. It shows that the two best turnouts were 1998 and 2000. However, if the chart had listed the presidential primary of 2008, which had a 57.7% turnout of registered voters, the readers could have seen that 2008 (which had a semi-closed primary for Democrats and a closed primary for Republicans) topped both blanket primary years, which had turnouts of 42.5% in 1998 and 53.9% in 2000. Table Seven, on page 20, includes all primaries 1990 through 2008, but it also omits the February 2008 primary.

The Report does not mention that primary turnout dropped in both Louisiana and Washington immediately after those states switched to a top-two system. The word “Louisiana” does not appear anywhere in the Report, even though that state has had more experience by far with a “top-two” system than any other state.

The Report constantly says that California now has a “closed primary”, but Professor Alvarez was a contributor to a scholarly, neutral work about the blanket primary, and that book defines “semiclosed primary” to be the type of primary California has now for state office and congress. That book is “Voting at the Political Fault Line: California’s Experiment with the Blanket Primary.” It was published in 2002 by the University of California Press. One would think that Professor Alvarez, as a contributor to that book, would have stuck to the definitions in that book.

The Report repeatedly says that California independents are now “disenfranchised”, although footnote 9 on page 7 acknowledges that independents can vote in California major party primaries for Congress and state office. Page 8 says that independents “may not be told that he or she can request a partisan ballot.” Actually, state law and regulations tell election officials at the polls to ask independent voters to read a short card that tells them that they may request a major party primary ballot.

Page eight says currently, voters in primaries have little choice because often, the primary contest “has already been decided by local power brokers.” But, if such local power brokers already have this power, one wonders why they wouldn’t continue to have it even if Proposition 14 is enacted.

Page nine says that Proposition “will provide voters more choice on the general election ballot.” Currently, voters generally see an average of four candidates on their general election ballots for Congress and state office, and are permitted to cast a write-in vote. Because Proposition 14 will reduce voter choice in the November ballot to only two candidates, and will not permit write-in votes to be counted, one wonders what the authors mean. Page ten explains that “more choice” means that sometimes general election voters will have the “meaningful” choice of choosing between two candidates of the same party.

The Report repeatedly says that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld “top-two” in 2008, without telling the reader that the Court only upheld it as to freedom of association on its face, and that the case is still pending on whether it violates freedom of association as applied, and whether “top-two” violates the ballot access precedents and trademark law.

The Report, on page ten, says that the measure “will appear on the June 2010 ballot as the ‘Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act’, but actually it will appear on the ballot with the Title, “Proposition 14. Elections.” The ballot description does not include the word “open” nor does it include the phrase “top-two”.

The Report says on page 42 that when Oregon voters voted on a top-two measure in 2008, that “an Oregon Superior Court” imposed a confusing title on the Oregon measure. Actually the Oregon Supreme Court imposed the title. Oregon does not even have Superior Courts. The Oregon state trial courts are called Circuit Courts.

UPDATE: the Report says that when California’s legislature was composed of people who had been elected in the blanket primary, the budget was passed on time. However, the only session of the California legislature in which all members had been elected in a blanket primary was the 2001-2002 session. In 2001, the budget was not passed until July 24, which was 25 days late. And in 2002, the budget was not passed until September 1, when it was 61 days late. Thanks to Darcy Richardson for this research.

13 Responses

  1. Demo Rep

    P.R. and nonpartisan A.V. — NO primaries are needed.

  2. Jim Riley

    Louisiana votes cast for governor:

    1,174,043 November 6, 1971 Democratic Primary
    10,571 November 6, 1971 Republican Primary
    1,184,614 November 6, 1971 Combined primaries.

    1,164,036 December 18, 1971 Democratic Runoff

    1,121,570 February 1, 1972 General Election

    1,203,004 November 1, 1975 Open Primary

    1,365,880 October 24, 1979 Open Primary

    1,371,825 December 8, 1979 Runoff

    Where is the dropoff?

  3. Jim Riley

    Washington votes cast for governor.

    1,303,024 September 14, 2004

    1,442,457 August 19, 2008

    Where is the dropoff?

  4. Jim Riley

    What was the purpose of AB 909?

  5. Richard

    Turnout is measured in percentages of the number of registered voters.

    The purpose of California’s AB 909 is to convert the communication from a writing (precinct officials point to a small card, telling independents about their choices), to an oral communication (precinct officials explain it orally). AB 909 is alive and will almost certainly pass, if the voters rejected Prop. 14. The legislature doesn’t want to bother passing it and then having it become meaningless.

  6. Jim Riley

    Page 9 refers specifically to choice in legislative races.

    In 2008, there were 171 general election candidates on the ballot for assembly races, or 2.14 per race.

    In 2006+2008, there were 93 general election candidates on the ballot for senate races, or 2.33 per race.

    Even if you look at congressional races, in 2008 there were 6 with 1 candidate, 22 with 2 candidates, 17 with 3 candidates, 5 with 4 candidates, and 1 with 5 candidates, or an average of 2.38 candidates. That is hardly “generally see an average of between four and five candidates”.

  7. Jim Riley

    Page ten explains that “more choice” means that sometimes general election voters will have the “meaningful” choice of choosing between two candidates of the same party.

    In AD 25 there will be no incumbent running for re-election. There are 6 Republicans who have filed for the office. Barring any write-in candidates being nominated by the 5 other parties (impossible for the Greens, Libertarian, or P&F’ites) or an independent filing (a mere 7339 signatures) the election of the next assemblyman will come in the June primary.

    Registration is 42% Republican, 37% Democratic 16% DTS, and 5% other. With 6 Republicans running for an open seat, it wouldn’t be surprising if the nominee had about 1/3 of the Republican primary vote, so perhaps 1/7 of the electorate will choose the Assemblyman for the district. Under Top 2 all voters would be able to vote in the primary, and then all voters would make the final choice between the Top 2 in November.

  8. Jim Riley

    Washington votes cast for governor divided by registration:

    September 14, 2004

    1,303,024 / 3,279,205 = 39.7%

    August 19, 2008

    1,442,457 / 3,417,355 = 42.2%

    Where is the dropoff? It was 2.5% higher.

  9. Centrist Dem Chris

    The Top-Two primary system works very well up here in WA. I’m very happy to have it and I hope CA gets it too. It helps moderate candidates.

  10. Jim Riley

    The political parties in Washington filed ballot access and trademark complaints. The district court has dismissed those complaints. It is true that the political parties have a legal right to appeal that decision.

  11. Richard

    Jim Riley’s #8 is not measuring how many voters went to the polls. He is measuring how many voters voted for Governor. The Washington Secretary of State’s web page has the data for how many voters turned out. Even though the Washington Secretary of State, Sam Reed, is in favor of top-two, his web page shows that turnout dropped between the 2004 primary and the 2008 primary.

    As to #9, the Washington state top-two is only working “well” if one is happy to have a complete absence of anyone but a Republican and a Democrat on the November ballot for Congress and statewide state office. Also the California top-two is different from Washington’s top-two. Washington lets candidates in the primary choose any label as long as it isn’t in bad taste and 15 letters or less. California’s Prop. 14 does not. Washington has easy ballot access in November for President. California does not, and that presidential access will be far more difficult if Prop. 14 passes. And the California primary is five months from the general election, which means 5 long months of a campaign with only Democrats and Republicans campaigning. This is especially bad in presidential years, when the whole country is paying extra attention to politics in August, September and October and the first few days of November.

  12. Jim Riley

    The report says that:

    “Budgets were more often passed on time and there were more bipartisan coalitions.”

    The 99-00 and 00-01 were approved before the start of the fiscal year, the first time since the 93-94 budget.

    Only 4 of the past 23 budgets have been passed on time. 2 were during the the period following the blanket primary. 50% vs 8%.

  13. Jim Riley

    #11 In 2004, 177,223 ballots were not counted in the gubernatorial primary. In 2008, this was reduced to 13,299 (a 92.5% reduction).

    Are you sure you want to be bragging on an election in which 12% of voters could have been just as effective if they had take a boat out into Puget Sound and thrown their ballot overboard?

    Proposition 14 does not change the current system for presidential preference primaries or placement of presidential candidates on the November election ballot.

    Proposition 14 does not change the date of the primary. It does not prevent changing the date of the primary. California moved its primary 3 months later in 2006, and it could move it later still.

    Proposition 14 (actually the enabling legislation) requires that a candidate’s party preference match that which he has disclosed on his voter registration affidavit. A candidate has the option of leaving it blank on the ballot.

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