Blowing up (ballot) boxes
There are competing measures on the Nov. 2 ballot addressing California's system of electing state constitutional officers, members of Congress and legislators. Proposition 60 simply asserts the status quo primary elections that pick a candidate from each qualified party, and a general election in which every qualified party is assured a spot on the ballot. Proposition 62 proposes fundamental some would say radical reform. The function of primaries would become, rather than a process of picking partisan nominees, a first-round of the general election. Every voter could select one candidate of any party for each office on the ballot; the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to the general election.
A Public Policy Institute of California poll released today shows that voters generally like the idea (49 percent yes, 33 percent no, 18 percent undecided). Democrats like it slightly more than Republicans, but the biggest boosters are the growing bloc of independent voters who favor it by a margin of 2-to-1 (58 percent to 29 percent).
There was something else in the poll that ought to be even more disconcerting to the Democratic and Republican party establishments that are working so feverishly to defeat Proposition 62: California voters just aren't satisfied with what they're getting. A remarkable 43 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of Republicans said they believe the two parties do such a poor job of representing the people that a third major party is needed. Among independents, 62 percent think a third party is needed.
"Is it the major parties or just the current crop of candidates that these voters find so lacking?" mused the poll's director, Mark Baldassare.
The survey does help explain why the parties, in their campaign to defeat Proposition 62, are shedding such huge crocodile tears over what they assert would be the initiative's deleterious effect on minor parties.
At a legislative hearing on the initiative yesterday, Republican operative Chris Wysocki asserted that the measure would "disenfranchise" all those who vote for minor party candidates in the general election. Democrats make the same argument. It's the first time I've ever seen the major parties show any affection for the minor-party candidates who can become such a nuisance to them in a close race.
A case can be made that the restructured primary might actually empower third parties, especially in districts that are that so homogenous that the major parties take them for granted. What might happen, for instance, if a Libertarian finished second in an Assembly primary race in northern San Diego County, or a Green finished second in a congressional primary in Berkeley? It could make for a very interesting general election. From the sentiments expressed in the poll, that might be just the kind of shake-things-up development that Californians disillusioned with the political status quo would love to see.