California's Prop 14: Death Sentence for Third Parties?


On June 8, Californians will get to vote on Proposition 14, which would eliminate the current party primary system in favor of one open primary in which anyone could vote for anyone regardless of party registration, the candidates could list or not list a party affiliation as they wished, and whoever the top 2 votegetters are, of whatever party, would go on to the general election. Polled support for the measure has been slipping lately, but is still above 50 percent (but with a large margin of undecided).

It is being sold as a way to crush Party inner circle poobahs from having too much power in choosing who gets to be the candidate. But third party activists from the Libertarian Party to Ralph Nader see it as just a way to ensure there is no possible third party choice for voters in general elections.

I survey the shape of the debate, with quotes and links galore, at my California news and politics blog "City of Angles." Go here for an anti-14 campaign led by LP candidate for California secretary of state, Christina Tobin. The official ballot arguments for and against Prop. 14. A similar measure in California's northern neighbor Oregon failed big in 2008 after early leads in pre-election polls.

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94 responses to “California's Prop 14: Death Sentence for Third Parties?

  1. Goddammit California, now you've gone and made me agree with Ralph Nader.

    You've made me very angry.

    1. Just like a broken clock, Ralph Nader is sometimes right.

      1. People please throw the damn clocks away after you break them im sick of hearing about them!

      2. yes, 2 instants out of infinity

  2. Better late than never.

  3. Jungle primary!

    1. I think "Bayou Primary" is a much better name.

  4. TEAM BLUE and TEAM RED are such colossal pussies. They know they suck so hard, they're scared of any competition, despite the fact that there hasn't really been any for the past 80 years.

    1. That's sedition, BP, straight up.

      1. I wish I was an alien, so I could get a two-fer.

        1. Citizen: "Well, I'm considering voting for a third party!"
          Kang: "Go ahead! Throw your vote away."

  5. Basically anyone whose name voters recognize from TV is guaranteed a top two finish. So the incumbent or office-to-office shifter is in, plus somebody else.

    There are a few Hollywood guys who are libertarians, aren't there? I mean, you got, uh...


    1. Angelina Jolie is an Ayn Rand fan.

      1. I think Angelina Jolie has been too busy shilling for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) to run for office.

    2. There are a few Hollywood guys who are libertarians

      Penn Jillette

      Drew Carey

      Thats all I got

      1. Clint Eastwood


        Robert Duvall

      2. Teller is also libertarian. Attended a private screening he gave of his magic act, and he quietly gave a libertarian soft sell.

        1. You forgot the original: Kurt Russell.

        2. Also, very, VERY fucking cool, prole.

  6. To think this will kill third party candidates means you would have to believe that parties are acting for their own benefit rather that the benefit of the public. I refuse to believe that. They are public servants with the highest principles.

    1. i agree. I don't see how this hinders a 3rd party candidate in the least.
      Good grief, how much success after 50, 60, or 70 years have 3rd parties had in CA?
      Indeed, it helps by allowing cross over voting and independents to vote for their favorite.
      And hopefully, if maybe overly idealistically, it may reduce people voting based on a "democrat" or "republican" label and start thinking about what the person is advocating.

    2. Did you read the comment at Ballot Access News that it would reduce the number of signatures required to get a statewide candidate on the ballot to 65? In Calif.!! What more could minor party and independent candidates want? They're complaining that it doesn't get them into the runoff (which is what the gen'l election becomes), but come on now! Not only that, but if they don't want to choose to label themselves on the ballot as being in an unpopular party, they don't have to.

      They're saying ballot access to the primary is 2nd class because few voters pay att'n to primaries. That's true when they're party primaries, but when the primary is converted into an all-comers 1st round, voters will pay more att'n to it.

      And it will definitely help smaller parties when a big party has a number of candidates who then proceed to knock each other off by having no primary as a mechanism to do so, allowing what would ordinarily be a weaker candidate from a smaller party -- or at least the #2 party in a district -- a better chance, because there's likely to be only 1 candidate from that less powerful party.

      1. Some of you really do not seem to understand how the election process works or does not work. Open primaries would actually reduce participation by "third" parties or "minor" candidates. The real im portance of other parties is not that they actually get many of their members elected -- they occausionally do. The real value is they bring in new ideas and keep the two major parties on their toes and slightly more honest. A multiparty system like in Isreal would be a mess here. Look, free speech also means free choices and not tricks to stifle ideas. Listen to Jill, she has run for office a couple times and knows what she is talking about even if I don't always agree with her. Look I'm not even a member of a "third" party, I'm registered as a Republican and my wife is registered as a Democrate. We generally agree and vote toward the center -- we pick and choose.

  7. I'm mildly for it right now - as far as I can tell, this would cause the State government to basically ignore party affiliation in elections.

  8. Has Nader come out against this? I'm not sure he disagrees with the concept. I recall hearing him rail in favor of "immediate runoffs" years ago.

    1. Yes, Nader is officially against it. See the quotes and links at my City of Angles entry, linked in this.

    2. The difference between immediate runoffs and this is huge.

      If this were an instant runoff or even a straight runoff -- i.e., if no one in November gets 50%, the top two are on a ballot in December -- that would be fine.

      But this isn't a runoff. This is kidnapping the whole notion of parties and primaries to run two separate elections that favor mushy pro-statist candidates. It is awful.

      1. Thanks Brian.

        MikeP - Maybe my understanding about the "immediate run-off" concept (or whatever he called it) was incorrect but it seemed that what he was saying at the time was that you would have your typical pool of candidates for election, then the top 2 - regardless of meeting a 50% threshold or not - would be the only two in a final election.

        I couldn't find anything in a real quick search for a link.

        1. Immediate runoff, or IRV (instance runoff voting) generally means that the voter rank his favored candidates on a single ballot. If no one gets 50%, the lowest vote getter is struck, and the votes are recounted. Repeat until someone gets 50%.

          No actual runoff is held.

          1. That's how members of Australia's federal House of Represemtatives are elected.

  9. I agree with the idea of this. Why should the two major parties always be guaranteed a spot in any election? But why is two the appropriate number of candidates to be in the general election? Perhaps a threshold percentage of votes needed in the primary would be better. Everyone with over, say, 10% gets to be in the general election.

    1. My quesiton is : why only 2? Why no the top 3 or top 4? Are voters' minds so overtaxed with the thought of anything more than a binary choice, that the thought of 3 choices is simply out of the question?

      To be honest, I do see this, in theory, as an opportunity for 3rd parties to get on a ballot, much greater than they are now, since they are locked out of primaries in most states, I imagine.

      But, since the sitting gov. and lt. gov are for this, along with AARP, it makes me question their intentions. Of course, unions are lining up on both sides, so it's hard to call that way. My guess is that the unions don't want to be "tricked" into voting for an icky Republican.

      1. Also, it's not clear what hoops 3rd parties are going to have to jump through to get on the initial ballot that the 2 majors won't have to.

        1. None! Because the candidates are allowed to list their party preference on the ballot or not, and it doesn't matter which party they list, the rules are the same. Plus, they could get the sigs from anyone qualified to vote for that office.

        2. The candidates in the all-party primary would have to be affiliated with a qualified party, and the initiative makes it harder for a party to remain ballot qualified.

          Right now a party remains ballot qualified if any candidate for a statewide constitutional office receives 2% of the vote, or if it retains registration equal to 1% of the last vote for Governor.

          The top two initiative will make it harder for alternative parties to get statewide candidates on the general election ballot, where they could get 2%. And according to Richard Winger @ Ballot Access News, the initative raises the number of registered voters a party needs to qualify for ballot status.

          1. The candidates in the all-party primary would have to be affiliated with a qualified party,

            I'm sure that's not the case! They'd be pretty brazen to disallow independent candidates any way to get on the ballot. And it said that candidates could state a preference for the party they're enrolled in, or not (but not for a party other than one they're enrolled in). And we know that Calif. allows one to enroll in any party, so it appears that rather than doing what you say, it makes the status of "qualified party" superfluous. There would never be a need to qualify a party to get its name mentioned on the ballot.

          2. The PDF of the official title, summary, and analysis (not the arguments PDF linked above) states:

            Candidates would indicate for the ballot either their political party (the party chosen on their voter registration) or no party preference. All candidates would be listed?including independent candidates, who now would appear on the primary ballot.

            See that? The party chosen on their voter registration, and in Calif. you can write in any party on your voter registr'n. Which means, "qualified" party or not, just 65 good sigs. and a valid candidate would get your party's name on the statewide ballot -- and probably even fewer sigs. for lower offices.

            True, it's only a "primary", which Calif., like many states, holds ridiculously early (June) -- but damn it, Libertarians and other minor party candidates in many other states would kill to get such easy access along, optionally, with party label, to a ballot that every voter is entitled to vote in.

            And if you think primary turnout is going to continue to be much lower than gen'l election turnout, even when the "primary" becomes really a 1st round election, then wouldn't that be better in terms of the att'n little candidates can get, based on their percentage of the vote? Wouldn't you get more att'n getting 10% of the vote in an all-parties primary than you would getting 1% of the vote Nov.? And since that's about all most minor candidates hope to do -- get att'n -- what's the difference if you're shut out of a Nov. election you're not going to come close to winning anyway?

        3. I've said this before: all ballots should be blank. Anyone who doesn't even know the name of the candidate he supports without having it handed to him on a printed form is an idiot.


      2. 3 or 4 would make a 33% or 25% split (theoretically) possible. How can you claim the consent of the governed with less than 50.1% of the vote?

        1. Why not? We already did that for Clinton's first term.

          Didn't Bush get less than 50% the first time Nader ran?

        2. There already are 3 or 4 candidates (at least) on most general election ballots.

          How can you claim the consent of the governed with 50.1% of the vote? Wouldn't that require 100%?

          Forcing people to vote for 1 of 2 candidates they don't like does not make the government more legitimate.

        3. You can't claim the consent of the governed with less than 100% of the vote--and even if you could, you'd be well under the 50.1% figure by factoring in non-voters.

      3. The intention is this (the proposed system is the same as Louisiana used since 1977; in 2008 Federal offices returned to the closed primary system):

        Louisiana has been using its nonpartisan primary since 1977; in the eleven election years since that time, only a single congressional incumbent has been defeated.

        -- Louisiana's Nonpartisan Primary: Model or Travesty of Reform?

    2. But why is two the appropriate number of candidates to be in the general election?

      With three candidates, you wind up with 2 people from one party splitting that vote, and another person not splitting the vote.

      That's how Republican Charles Djou just got elected in a special election in highly Democratic Hawaii -- he got 40%, the two Democrats got about 30% each.

      1. What could go wrong?

  10. Wouldn't this allow a conservative to say they were a Democrat in a heavily Democrat district and the Democratic Party would be unable to do anything about it?

    Or a party could run two strong candidates with lots of support and try to get a plurality for both of the, ensuring that both candidates in the general election are Republicans (for example).

    It would also hurt parties that run a lot of weak candidates, where that doesn't matter in a traditional primary. If there are two Republicans running and four Democrats that would seem to boost the chances of the Republicans both winning even if they collectively had under 50% of the the vote.

    1. Wouldn't this allow a conservative to say they were a Democrat in a heavily Democrat district and the Democratic Party would be unable to do anything about it?

      Indeed, that's exactly how we got Conservative Party member John Wilson the Democratic nomination (winning the primary) here in the Bronx, and hence the general election as Supreme Ct. judge.

      Or a party could run two strong candidates with lots of support and try to get a plurality for both of the, ensuring that both candidates in the general election are Republicans (for example).

      Indeed, and that's a drawback. But how often will that occur compared to the times when the bigger party has more candidates who then split the vote and allow a smaller party with fewer candidates to win both runoff spots?

  11. The promise of Prop 14 is so unbelievably diaphanous that it is beyond comprehension that anyone would vote for it. Yet it is winning in the polls.

    Presently in the California senate race, Fiorina is ahead in the Republican primary, but she is polled to lose to Boxer. The more moderate Campbell is behind in the primary, but he is polled to beat Boxer.

    So would Campbell face Boxer under a Prop 14 style top two? No. The top two finishers would still be Fiorina and Boxer.

    What the hell.

    1. That's not true. Campbell would be able to get the votes of non-republicans. There isn't any polling on who would win if all the candidates were on the ballot at the same time. Campbell might actually get more than Fiorina.

      Campbell, FWIW, has endorsed this prop.

      1. I agree with you. Once you have candidates who are not in the straight jacket of party nominating, you could get all sorts of new potentials.
        Republicans who are pro-choice. Democrats who are pro-gun. Republicans who are pro-gay.
        Democrats who are for lower taxes...nah, thats just crazy talk.

    2. No, this would make centrists and moderates more likely to get elected, by winning crossover votes, rather than getting polarized hard-right R and hard-left D candidates predominating.

      1. How is electing more Arlen Spector type politicians a desirable outcome? Centrists are more likely to be corrupt since they have no ideological core beliefs to keep them from doing things for mere personal gain.

  12. This will all but guarantee Democrats or a Democrat + RINO winning the top 2 spots. They have been trying to get this passed for years.

  13. I dont have a problem with this system. If ballot access is equal for the first round, then LP members have the same access as Dems and gopers. Finish in the top 2 and you move on. You cant win if you cant finish in the top 2. Basically, its a runoff election*, and while I would prefer IRV, I dont have a problem with this.

    Georgia requires 50% in their general elections, so if a 3rd party candidate knocks the leader down to 48%, they go to a runoff election. This isnt really any different.

    *except that 50% in primary doesnt get you the win? Just guessing, havent looked at details.

    1. The problems are two:

      1. This effectively ends all inclusiveness in the political process and discussion in June -- approximately 4 months before people actually start paying attention to politics.

      2. If someone gets 50% in June, he isn't simply named the damn winner.

      3. California's ballot access laws are based on party showings in state elections in November. Ha! Tough luck third parties.

      1. In Louisiana, under this system, sometimes there wouldn't even be a general election for some races since the race was won in the primary round.

      2. MikeP make the important point - it's all about ballot access. The incumbents sense the change in the electorate - leftists in the private sector upset at the ridiculous benefits bestowed on the public sector, conservatives in favor of abortion and easier immigration, etc. Heck, we've got several incumbents in the US losing their party primaries recently. This is merely an attempt to give incumbents a better chance of not losing their primaries, nothing more.

  14. What happens if the top 2 finishers in the primary are from the same party? Could you have a general election with 2 Democrats?

    If so, I think it would give the party establishments tremendous leverage in pressuring outsider candidates to drop out to insure the party gets at least on guy on the general election ballot.

    1. pressuring outsider candidates to drop out

      Or give them a cushy Federal Appointment....

  15. A more basic question: why do taxpayers subsidize party primaries in the first place?

    1. damn good point.
      what have those people ever done for us?

    2. My thoughts exactly.

    3. I have often wondered that myself. Why do the parties have any official significance at all beyond what any social club should have?

    4. Because party primaries were presented as a "good government" reform from having party bosses choose candidates for the general election.

    5. I think the problem is political parties themselves. If we want to associate ourselves into political parties, that should be our choice via our freedom of assembly, but there is no reason why the government needs to publish a candidate's political party on a ballot any more than they need to publish their religion, veteran status or college degree. This would force voters to either learn about the stances of the individual candidates or vote for the guy with the coolest sounding name. If you are passionately dedicated to a party, that party could publish a list of their endorsed candidates. If a party was well organized, they would have a private primary prior to qualification day and only nominate one candidate so they won't defeat themselves.

  16. The top-two system has already been tried in 2 states, Louisiana and Washington. Governor Edwin Edwards of Louisiana invented it in 1975. It does not result in good government in that state. It was used in Louisiana congressional elections 1978-2006. In all those 30 years, only one incumbent from either house of Congress was ever defeated (except in 1992 when incumbents had to run against each other in 2 districts, due to redistricting). But when Louisiana gave up this system in 2008 and used a normal system, two incumbents were defeated.

    When Washington used it in 2008 for the first time, out of 140 congressional and state partisan races, only one incumbent lost in the primary. Furthermore, Prop. 14 unnecessarily makes it more difficult for ballot-qualified parties to remain ballot-qualified. Prop. 62, also a top-two measure defeated in California in 2004, did not have this evil characteristic.

    1. Furthermore, Prop. 14 unnecessarily makes it more difficult for ballot-qualified parties to remain ballot-qualified.

      But what significance will "ballot qualified" have in Calif., when all candidates will be allowed to have a party label on the ballot? Calif. voters have long had the right to write in any party name in the enrollment section of their voter registr'n.

  17. This could actually help third parties if the primary voters were instructed to select TWO (or more) candidates to appear in the general election. Red voters might not select a Blue candidate as an opponent. The second candidate would then come from a third party. The alternate parties would have a significant impact on the election.

  18. It's so funny that the D and R leadership have argued for years against having an open general election but like it so much for a primary. Also, as far as I've seen, there are no guarantees that under "Top Two" that eventually they'll still require special hoops to be jumped through for anyone that is not a D or R. Plain and simple, this is Bad Law. Open up the general election (without the second class candidate requirements if you're not a D or R) and give the voters more choices and be done with it.

    1. Also, as far as I've seen, there are no guarantees that under "Top Two" that eventually they'll still require special hoops to be jumped through for anyone that is not a D or R.
      What kind of argument is that? There are no guarantees already that Calif. won't amend its constitution to become a hereditary monarchy.

      Does anything about the measure proposed here make it more likely that special hoops will be put in place?

      1. They've already put hoops in place, which means they're likely to do it again. But as far as I know, they've never instituted a monarchy.

        1. But what makes you think that this measure would make it more likely? Existing election law doesn't contain any such guarantees either, so what's that got to do with the price of cheese?

  19. Nice work, Brian. One point I push with my D & R friends is that, sure it's possible both candidates in the top two will be a D and an R, but if they're both Ds (most likely in CA) or both Rs, the other major party is just as screwed as the third parties in a given race. Voting against prop 14 preserves voter choice for EVERYONE.

  20. California has used a blanket primary for all special elections since 1967. California also used a blanket primary for all partisan elections, 1998 and 2000. Not once did a minor party member place first or second in the blanket primary (except races in which only one major party person was running). We know how this works. Voters don't pay attention to minor party members during primary season. Even Jesse Ventura only got 3% in Minnesota's classic open primary in mid September 1998, but he won the general election. Under Prop. 14 he would not have been on the November ballot. Audie Bock, the Green Party legislator, came in third in her blanket primary and so under Prop. 14 she also would have been barred.

  21. First, I must say that I dont necessarily think it is the goal of the California voting process to produce a "moderate" outcome.

    But I also don't necessarily think that this change would adversely affect Third Parties by its very nature.

    There are certainly districts in CA where the Green candidate could be in the top two over a GOP candidate.

    There very well may be districts where a local libertarian candidate could be in the top two over a Democrat.

  22. In order to maintain ballot access in California one of a party's candidates needs to poll 2% or better in a statewide race. If the third party candidate is not included in the general election, their party cannot maintain ballot access without costly registration drives. Prop 14 is designed to drive those pesky third parties off the ballot, guaranteeing that the voters will only have major party candidates to choose from, no protest votes.

    1. But that only applies to general elections, right? The third party candidates will still have access to the "primary." And they might actually do *better* if multiple candidates split the GOP/Dem votes.

      1. I should have clarified that a state wide candidate has to poll 2% in the General Election, not just the primary. If you can't get a state wide candidate to the General Election, you cannot meet the threshold, and your party is off the ballot. Then to regain ballot access, you have to register 1% of the total voters in the last election to your party. An unreasonable hurdle and very expensive.

        1. But under Prop. 14, your party would not be off the ballot in any meaningful sense. It would more easily be on the ballot, in fact. See Jim Riley's comment correcting what Richard Winger wrote in the site linked from Ralph Nader's.

          Apparently there had been a previous Calif. ballot proposition that would have had the untoward effect of shutting unqualified parties out of ballot mention, but the current Prop. 14 does not have that wording.

  23. There are no districts in California in which Greens would place first or second. We know this from the experience of the blanket primary. Even inside San Francisco, in 1998 the Green Party gubernatorial candidate placed 5th inside San Francisco, and he was a former member of Congress. Ralph Nader placed 5th in the blanket presidential primary inside San Francisco in 2000. The Green US Senate candidate Benjamin Medea placed third inside San Francisco in 2000. Peter Camejo, in the 2003 one-ballot primary, placed third inside San Francisco.

    For the Libertarians, Tom Tryon, Calaveras County supervisor since 1984 and a registered Libertarian all that time, ran for several partisan offices during the blanket primary years, and even inside Calaveras County he always placed third in those blanket primaries. People vote differently in partisan elections than in non-partisan elections. Matt Gonzalez may have come close to being elected Mayor of San Francisco while he was a Green, but when he ran for vice-president with Ralph Nader in 2008, inside San Francisco he only got 1.03%.

  24. Wouldn't this just encourage the parties to more carefully manage who enters the "primary"? Or to endorse a particular candidate in the "primary" so as to ensure that on of their own makes it to the general?

    Why is California so bad at predicting unintended consequences?

    1. Why is California most of the world so bad at predicting unintended consequences?
      And in response (to what is obviously a rhetorical question, but I'm bored), I don't know, but if they weren't, we wouldn't have such a strong need for limited government.

    2. Wouldn't this just encourage the parties to more carefully manage who enters the "primary"? Or to endorse a particular candidate in the "primary" so as to ensure that on of their own makes it to the general?

      Sure, if Calif. political parties had that much party discipline. Which I bet they don't. It would require the co-operation of every one of their members.

  25. But third party activists from the Libertarian Party to Ralph Nader see it as just a way to ensure there is no possible third party choice for voters in general elections.

    If you can't finish second in an open primary, you're not going to win the general election, so what's the point?

    I know Nader is against this because having his name on a general election ballot feeds his delusions of importance, but the LP?

    1. Can't it be, modulo the narcissism, the same reason?

      Shutting off all alternative perspectives but one in June is not a recipe for productive political dialog.

      1. On the other hand, the point of the exercise is to field and elect viable candidates. Not to provide an election-shaped soapbox for a multitude of alternative perspectives.

  26. This is a great idea. It means people will be more likely to vote their conscience in primaries, thus better revealing how many libertarian-leading people are out there.

  27. It does not follow logically that failure to place 1st or 2nd in the first round means the person won't win the November election. In 1980, in Washington state's gubernatorial election, using a blanket primary, two Democrats came in first and second in the primary. Under blanket primary rules the Republican front-runner (who had come in 3rd) still got into the November election, and he was elected. In 1984, in all the nation's presidential primaries put together, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart each got more votes than Ronald Reagan did, yet we know Reagan was overwhelmingly elected in Nov. 1984.

    If we had this top-two system in the presidential election of 2008, the general election would have been between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They each got over 17,000,000 votes in all the primaries put together, but the Republican field was split 4 ways, and no Republican got as many as 10,000,000.

    1. I think you just disproved your own point. One party rule. Think, China, N. Korea.

  28. This eliminates the primary election and creates a two round general election. It destroys the ability of the party electorates to choose their own candidates for the general election. Any number of candidates can claim affiliation with any party, whether they truly represent that party or not. The parties and their electorates cannot winnow down on their own the candidate that actually best represents them.

    An open "primary" purports to solve a problem which is not really a problem, and creates a number of ways to game the system.

  29. Arguing with Mr. Winger about ballot access is like arguing with the Oxford Dictionary about English.

    Personally, I believe that top 2 is one of the more vicious electoral approaches for incumbency protection. Of course, I also have seen a colorado judge's decision that says more than one candidate on the ballot is confusing to voters...tough call.


  30. Nevertheless, sometimes Richard gets details wrong, as I and at least one other analyst have detected his doing on Prop. 14. I've seen experts on other types of legislation go wrong on analyzing bills in their areas of expertise too. It happens. The OED has mistakes too. That's why there are wikis.

  31. Look, are some of you commentors not even residents of California. With our current "closed" or party elections, a minor party candidate as well obviously as the major two party cadidates are listed on the General or November election, one candidate per party. Assuming they got enough of votes to be on the final election ballot. Under an "open" or no party affiliation election only the two top vote getting candiates would even be on the General or November Election. People do read their sample ballots? So in most cases only a Rep and Dem candidate would be on the final election ballot. Imagine a "third" party candidate earning 50%+1 vote in a general election. But at least they can affect an election. Remember Bush vs Gore vs Nadar? Not that I liked the result there -- Nadar basically gave us F'ing Bush Jr. Sorry for the condisending mood, but I am right now. All the lies in this election have me p.o.!

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