California voters overhaul primary election system

admin Contributor
Font Size:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Blaming political parties for California’s dysfunction, voters dumped the state’s partisan primary but got no guarantee it would change government.

The passage of Proposition 14 on Tuesday gave the nation’s most populous state an open primary in which voters can cast ballots for any candidate.

Thomas Garner, 65, said he voted for the initiative because he can’t see a difference between Republicans and Democrats.

“They fight like cats and dogs, but in the end they’re all the same. The system is broken,” said Garner, an attorney from San Diego.

“Californians hate their state’s politics, and they are looking for measures to change it,” added Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

Still, it’s doubtful Proposition 14 will be the panacea to political stalemate in Sacramento, he added.

Democrats will likely continue representing liberal regions, with Republicans elected in conservative areas.

One of five initiatives on the ballot, Proposition 14 was backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has long argued that centrist candidates rarely win primaries dominated by party activists.

He praised voters for “bringing real accountability to government and putting the people back in charge of the politicians.”

Despite their willingness to reform primaries, voters defeated Proposition 15, a measure to experiment with public funding of political campaigns.

Two other rejected measures were backed by businesses. Proposition 16, funded by Pacific Gas & Electric, would have amended the California Constitution to require local governments to get two-thirds voter approval before using tax dollars to start a power agency.

Proposition 17 was put on the ballot by Mercury Insurance to overturn a state law prohibiting insurance companies from considering a driver’s insurance history to set rates. It also would allow loyalty discounts to follow customers if they switch insurance companies.

Voters overwhelmingly adopted Proposition 13, which exempts earthquake safety improvements from property taxes.

The open-primary measure was opposed by California’s Republican and Democratic parties. Officials complained it would give well-funded special interests the greatest sway over the election process and leave candidates beholden to big-money donors, not voters.

Third parties feared their candidates would be shut out of general elections because minor candidates typically draw fewer votes.

Until now, California voters have been limited in most primary elections to casting ballots for candidates of only the political party they are registered with. Decline-to-state voters can pick a party ballot in nearly all elections.

By the 2012 primaries, a California voter will be able to cast a ballot for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation. Presidential candidates would still compete in a party primary.

Under the new system, two candidates of the same party could face off in a general election in state and federal races.

Washington and Louisiana have similar primary systems.