CA: Top Two Primary Faces First Legal Challenge

From my most recent column at the California Independent Voter Network:

The first lawsuit challenging the legality of California’s newly-approved “top two” open primary system was brought forward last week in San Francisco Superior Court. The suit seeks to block implementation of Proposition 14 on the grounds that it disenfranchises voters and discriminates against minor party candidates.

The top two open primary system was passed into law in June when voters approved Prop 14. The measure was backed by Governor Schwarzenegger and Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado, and opposed by Democratic and Republican party leaders as well as a large coalition of third party groups, including the Green and Libertarian parties. In the end, Prop 14 was supported by 54% of voters, though only 33% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the election, according to the Office of the Secretary of State.

The Top Two Act effectively does away with the traditional party primary. Instead, all candidates for a given office, except that of President, would be listed on the same primary ballot and the top two vote-getters in each primary race, irrespective of party, would go on to compete in the general election.

The lawsuit, however, does not challenge Proposition 14 as such, but rather provisions within Senate Bill 6. SB6 was passed by the state legislature in early 2009 as part of the compromise that resulted in the passage of the state’s budget. SB6 was authored by Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado who cast the decisive vote in the budget impasse. The bill provides the legal scaffolding for the implementation of the top two open primary.

The lawsuit argues that SB6 is unconstitutional because, if implemented, candidates who “identify with a ‘minor’ party will be censored and discriminated against on the ballot,” and because votes cast for any “write-in candidate in the general election will not be counted.”

Read the whole thing.

1 comment:

DLW said...

A better alternative to "top two primary" is "top three IRV" that uses a limited form of Approval Voting in the primary.

This redresses way that some "more strategic" voters can garner undue influence on election outcomes in an Approval Voting system. This unfortunately, has provoked backlashes against AV in the past, but can be avoided if all voters must give approval votes to a certain number of the primary candidates.