California's Top Two Open Primary Act: Pro and Con

Independent and third party activists find themselves on opposite sides of the debate over California's Top Two Primaries Act. Ballotpedia describes the proposition thusly:
The California Top Two Primaries Act ballot proposition is on the June 8, 2010 ballot in California as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment. If approved by voters, the proposal will require that candidates run in a single primary open to all registered voters, with the top two vote-getters meeting in a runoff. The new system would take effect in the 2012 elections. Specifically, it would provide for a "voter-nominated primary election" for each state elective office and congressional office in California. Voters could vote in the primary election for any candidate for a congressional or state elective office without regard to the political party affiliations of either the candidate or the voter. Candidates could choose whether or not to have their political party affiliation displayed on the ballot.
Independents have come out strongly in support of the measure, as it allows unaffiliated voters to participate in the primary selection process. Third party activists, on the other hand, argue against it because it ensures that there will only be two candidates on the ballot in the general election and thus restricts choice. In the third party and independent blogosphere, this split is most clear in the positions of Nancy Hanks, who supports the measure, and Richard Winger, who is against it. This week, The Hankster published guest pieces by authors representing both sides in the debate. In the first, Richard Winger argued that "independents are better off with more choices on the November ballot":
The United States desperately needs political leaders who are committed to new ideas for solving our problems, and who are more interested in advancing those new ideas than they are to just advancing their own personal political career. . . . In democratic countries all over the world, when a leader, or a group, is determined to persuade society that it's time for a particular change in social policy, the traditional way to do that is to form a political party committed to that idea. . . . Unfortunately, in the United States, the ability of people to organize into a new political party and take their case to the voters has been trampled upon. . . .

Proposition 14, the "top-two open primary", has already been tried in two states, Washington (in 2008) and Louisiana (used for Congress 1978-2006, and state office ever since 1975). We know what happens in that system. In Washington, in 2008, for the first time since Washington became a state, there were no independent or minor party candidates on the November ballot for Congress and statewide state office. In Louisiana, no minor party member has ever qualified for the second round. That is why independents, or independent-minded people, who have been elected to important office, such as Ron Paul, Lowell Weicker, Jesse Ventura, and John Anderson, are opposed to a system that leaves just two candidates on the November ballot. New parties, representing movements, can't get a foothold in a system that allows only two candidates on the November ballot.

I believe that it is very desirable that independents be allowed to vote in major party primaries. My opposition to Proposition 14 is not because I am opposed to letting independents vote in major party primaries.
In the second, Harry Kresky responded to Richard Winger's piece in an article entitled "Why Independents Support Open Primaries":
Most of us share Richard’s desire for a politics in which new ideas take priority over political careers. The issue is how to achieve this. He thinks the answer is to protect the status of minor parties on the grounds that they drive new ideas and social change into the mainstream. But the role of third parties as incubators of political change is limited. . . . Americans don’t look to the third parties as instruments for reform, in no small part because they don’t like parties, major or minor . . . “Top-two” is an important step towards non-partisan governance. It does away with party primaries altogether. If the Proposition 14 initiative passes, all voters vote in a first round in which all candidates are listed on the ballot with their party preference next to their name, and the top two go on to the general election which is also open to all voters. . . .

A key issue for independents is full participation in every phase of the electoral process. Top-two is a way to achieve that. Under the current system in California, each party holds its own primary election, and only members of that party have a right to participate. That means that 3,466,855 registered voters in California are not guaranteed the right to participate because they have elected not to register into a political party. They can only vote when a party allows them in its primary. They are not guaranteed a say in who appears on the general election ballot. Passage of Proposition 14 will give all voters the right to participate in every phase of the electoral process.
I'd be interested to hear any comments from readers on the west coast who may be following this debate in the local media.


richardwinger said...

Harry Kresky says no minor party helped with the civil rights revolution. Actually the Communist Party helped it quite a bit, by actions in the 1930's and 1940's. The Communist Party was the first party to nominate black candidates for important office, such as Governor and U.S. Senate. It nominated a black candidate for vice-persident in 1932, 1936, and 1940. That may seem boring to us today, but people don't realize how that changed the perception back then that blacks simply didn't run for important office. Also the Communist Party saved the Scottsboro boys in Alabama from the death penalty, with its outstanding public relations campaign carried out all over the world. Communists knew how to organize and they used their expertise to help fledging civil rights activists.

Nancy Hanks said...

Richard, under discussion was the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, and, while we respect the work of the CP in the 30’s, your examples are not germane to the current discussion. Kresky says:

"History demonstrates that social movements which impact the major parties are more effective in producing sweeping change than third parties. One recent example is the civil rights gains of the sixties which came about through a mass movement that forced the major parties to take long overdue measures to redress employment and other forms of discrimination. It also forced Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act which provided an effective remedy against persistent efforts to deny African-Americans in the South full access to the ballot. Third parties played little if any role in these accomplishments."

The point here is that social movements are more effective than today's marginalized third parties in bringing about needed reforms.

richardwinger said...

The Civil Rights progress of the 1960's did not spring full grown from nothing. There was considerable necessary preliminary work done in the 1920', 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's.

Have you read any political science books about why parties are needed? Try "Why Parties?" (1995) by John Aldrich, or "On the Side of the Angels" (2008) by Nancy L. Rosenblum.

d.eris said...

It should also be noted that the Democratic and Republican Parties were overtly hostile to and arrogantly opposed the civil rights movement and everything that it stood for, and they continue their active opposition to virtually all movements in favor of freedom, equality and justice today.

richardwinger said...

California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is Prop. 14's most ardent proponent. He is not a person who likes grass-roots democracy. He vetoed the national popular vote bill, twice in a row. He vetoed a bill to let write-in votes count (when the voter forgot to X the box next to the name written in) twice in a row. He even vetoed a bill to repeal a California law that says anyone who was a Communist Party member can't work for a public school district, even though that law was declared unconstitutional in 1967.

Anonymous said...

Other activities of the CPUSA included mob violence in support of a policy of mass murder:
The Ukrainian American community in November and December 1933 organized marches in a number of U.S. cities to protest against American recognition of a government which was starving millions of Ukrainians.[41][42] American Communists resorted to violence in an attempt to silence the Ukrainians.[41][42][43] On November 18, 1933, in New York City, 8,000 Ukrainians marched from Washington Square Park to 67th Street, while 500 Communists ran beside the parade and snatched the Ukrainians’ handbills, spat on the marchers and tried to hit them.[41][42] Five persons were injured.[41] Only the presence of 300 policemen on foot and a score on horseback leading the parade and riding along its flanks prevented serious trouble.[41][42]

In Chicago, on December 17, 1933, several hundred Communists mounted a massed attack on the vanguard of 5,000 Ukrainian American marchers, leaving over 100 injured in what The New York Times called “the worst riot in years”:
“Brick, clubs, rotten eggs and other missiles rained on the marchers from the Hermitage Avenue elevated station bridging Madison Street. The street fight which followed saw brass knuckles, blackjacks, fists and rifle butts used until a dozen squads of police restored order.”[18]


As you can see, the CPUSA actually had quite a bit in common with the KKK.

richardwinger said...

Yes, the Communist Party USA did some very good things, but they did some very very bad things also.