The Death of Third Parties in California?


That's what many political activists think will be the result of yesterday's victory for Cali's Proposition 14, which creates a new primary system whereby anyone can vote for anyone on the ballot, party identification is voluntary on that ballot, and the top two primary vote-getters compete in the November general elections regardless of their affiliation.

Gov. Schwarzenegger loves it, thinking it means more "moderate" candidates will arise and problem-solve, rather than candidates forced to appeal in primaries to radical two-party maniacs defending their right and left flanks.

Anti-14ers Christina Tobin (of the Libertarian Party) and Ralph Nader (of Ralph Nader) are peeved:

"Throughout the primary election season, Prop 14 supporters hammered voters with deceptive and hypocritical messages – from false claims about how the measure would cure all of Sacramento's ills to the misleading ballot language itself," stated Christina Tobin, chair of StopTopTwo.Org. "Big business and big government won yesterday. If StopTopTwo.Org had half the funding that Schwarzenegger's group had, we would have been better equipped to spread the truth and would have won by a very wide margin. Simply put, voters were tricked into supporting this terrible measure by corrupt politicians and big business interests."

Groups across the political landscape – from tea parties to labor unions to independents – opposed the anti-democratic measure because it will limit their November ballot choices to only two candidates. All six qualified parties in California opposed the measure.

Ralph Nader commented: "The California Chamber of Commerce and other corporate interests have deceived enough voters in California to abolish the November elections for all but the two major parties. This is the latest manifestation of the business lobby's antagonism to the core event of a democratic society – the November elections. What is next for their corporatist agenda against American democracy? "

An olde-timey 2002 Reason magazine book review on The Tyranny of the Two Party System.

NEXT: Where Different Sorts of Fame Get You With California Voters

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  1. Think of the money that California will save on ballot printing.

    ? Douchebag (R)
    ? Turd Sandwich (D)

    They could use it in every damned November election for any goddam office.

    1. I like the idea of:
      ? Douchebag A
      ? Douchebag B

      That way you don’t even need to bother with parties.

      1. I like the idea of:
        ? Douchebag A (Incumbent)
        ? Douchebag B

        1. The douchebag with the more amount of money wins…

          … everybody else loses.

          1. No, I think douches with charisma, or new ideas, could get a gusher of support cum the fall.

        2. Good point.

    2. I’d always vote for a turd sandwich over a duechebag.

      1. A douche is at least clean

    3. So what is to prevent two D’s or two R’s being the top two vote getters? Since primary voters can vote for any candidate, there is no reason why a pair of D’s/R’s couldn’t take the top two slots with each getting well under 20% of the primary vote.

      The two “organized” parties will have to strong-arm their own candidates to make sure they don’t run too many candidates and split up the vote thus letting two of the other guys/gals take the top two slots.

      1. The two “organized” parties will have to strong-arm their own candidates to make sure they don’t run too many candidates and split up the vote thus letting two of the other guys/gals take the top two slots.

        I have the feeling that won’t be too hard, there being no honor among thieves and all.

      2. I kinda hope that happens, just so we can start referring to California as a one-party state.

  2. It does nothing to change the chances of third-parties winning in a general election-it changes their chances from 0.00% to 0.00%.

    It does, however, make it more likely that Arnie-types (moderate Republicans) will win state-wide office. The old system guaranteed the Republicans would nominate somebody a few beers short of a six pack, who would lose by twenty points in the general to whoever the Dems nominated.

    1. This is supposed to reassure me?

    2. The old system guaranteed the Republicans would nominate somebody a few beers short of a six pack, who would lose by twenty points in the general to whoever the Dems nominated.

      And the Dems always nominated moderates?

      1. It’s been a while since I had to care, but I don’t recall the donkeys nominating any moderates. It’s just that they have more diehard follower who vote for whatever nitwit they put up then the ‘phants do.


  3. Prop. 14 or the “American Idol Democratic Process” bill.

  4. I’m not sure how eliminating party control over the primary process counts as “tyranny of the two major parties”?

    1. Because now, only two candidates make it to the general election, who will almost certainly be from major parties (though I suppose in some far left or far right districts, the third party might be able to beat out the weak major party. More likely, though, you’ll just get two from the major party.)

    2. All six qualified parties in California opposed the measure.

      That seems to include Team Red and Team Blue, which is a strong indicator that this will break down political party control by these two teams.

      1. Id guess that it leaves the parties with a lot less control of who runs, but not necessarily a lot less chance that one of their guys is in there.

        IOW, bad for the party bosses even if it’s not too bad for the party’s prospects overall…

  5. “Gov. Schwarzenegger loves it, thinking it means more “moderate” candidates will arise and problem-solve, rather than candidates forced to appeal in primaries to radical two-party maniacs defending their right and left flanks.”

    Uh huh.

    And what problems in this country have “moderates” ever actually solved?

    I can’t think of a single one.

    1. But….But, But…BIPARTISANSHIP!!!!!

    2. moderates get things done. that means increased statism.

    3. A moderate statist is better than a hardcore statist.

  6. This should lead to lots of false flag candidates, and crazies masquerading under one party or another’s banner.
    Not to mention the possibility of, say,
    homophobes from one party now being able to gang up to vote for the other party’s straight candidate competing against a gay candidate.

  7. I don’t see why this wouldn’t help a third-party candidate’s chances.

    Say there are 9 candidates in the race, including 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans. A third-party candidate who could energize, say, 25% of the vote would have a solid shot at getting into a one-on-one battle in the general election.

    I don’t see why Arnie thinks this would encourage moderation, either. If you can finish in the final 2 by getting a quarter of the votes, you can win by energizing a solid ideological bloc.

    Are there barriers to entry into the free-for-all primary that I’m not aware of?

    1. I agree. This lets people who are voting Democratic or Republican vote for a third party without the risk of a weak candidate being chosen.

      Let’s say that Republican’s second choice is the Libertarian Party and that Democrat’s second choice is the Green Party. In majority Democratic districts, we might see Democrats run against Greens and in majority Republican districts we might see Republicans run against Libertarians. The Democrats in Republican districts don’t want to vote for a Republican, so they vote for a Libertarian. Democrats in a majority Democratic district might feel safer voting for a Green now, since if their candidate loses, a Democrat is still elected.

      With an equal number of Democrats and Republicans in the state house, one or two Libertarians in there may force California on a Libertarian path since they can vote with the Democrats on social issues and with the Republicans on economic issues (especially if the Democrats get the supermajority vote requirement on financial bills repealed).

      1. +2

        This is nothing but a pre-election election. There’s nothing stopping parties of all types from supporting one particular candidate, they’ll just have to do it earlier in the game and (like they used to) without government assistance.

        1. This is nothing but a pre-election election.

          In Louisiana where this system (aka the Louisiana Primary), there sometimes wouldn’t be a general election in November…

        2. This is nothing but a pre-election election.

          In Louisiana where this system (aka the Louisiana Primary) was invented, there sometimes wouldn’t be a general election in November…

            1. Cause if the person got 50% of the vote they wouldn’t have to face a run-off. Bobby Jindal won this way in the last gubernatorial election there.

              I think they’ve voted to go back to a closed primary system though.

      2. I tend to agree.
        I would also point out that the 3rd party candidates are more likely to bring up uncomfortable issues as a means of splintering the support of opponents. A green candidate could really change the dynamics of a race in a democratic district, while a libertarian would do the same in a “conservative” district.

        My view is that these third parties will get us away from the mealy mouthed politics of today – a situation where you can lose weight on a diet of ice cream and pizza. A green candidate is more likely to blurt that air pollution is caused by too many SUV’s, not just oil companies. Want less CO2 in the air? don’t drive fatso!

        A libertarina might actually suggest things in government that can be cut!!! We could actually see constituencies form against the helium reserve stockpile. (although I would expect fierce opposition from the dirigible manufacturers association).

  8. California’s problem is that only the diehards vote in primaries. How does Prop 14 change that? If only the fringes vote, then the top two vote getters will be from the two fringes.

    This system would work better if the jungle voting occurred in November on the main election day, with a subsequent runoff.

    1. Exactly.

      If diehard third party voters show up en masse, they could put their candidates on the general election ballot.

      At which point there will be a proposition to repeal Proposition 14.

      1. At which point there will be a proposition to repeal Proposition 14.

        And it would fail, because this idea that “we should be able to vote for whoever we want” is an incredibly populist idea. It’s based on a fundamental misunderstanding of civics– that political parties are private clubs, not public organizations just throwing out candidates to vote on. People don’t understand that the primary elections is essentially a vote to see whose ideas will lead the party platform.

        Perhaps if we stopped calling them political parties, and started calling them Unions, people would understand better.

        1. Perhaps if we stopped calling them political parties, and started calling them Unions, people would understand better.

          We could call them Political Corporations instead… and unions would become Labor Corporations, what we now call corporations would become Business Corporations, churches, mosques, etc, would become Religious Corporations, etc…

          1. I was merely suggesting that because people seem to understand that I can’t vote for the president of the Teamsters because I’m not a teamster. But somehow I should be able to vote in the Republican primary, even if I’m not a Republican.

            1. Well…considering our tax dollars are paying for the primaries of both major parties…

              1. That’s the problem. The parties should be private clubs, but since they control the political system, they get to vote to have their functions publicly funded.
                I say each party should have to make their own arrangements for a primary or whatever they want and every potential candidate should have to meet the same standards to get on the ballot, regardless of party affiliation.

                1. And party affiliation should not be printed on the ballot for any candidate.

        2. …this idea that “we should be able to vote for whoever we want” is an incredibly populist idea.

          Agreed, which means that it might be easy to amend 14 with another initiative stipulating a top 3 or 4 in the general.

          1. At some point, why don’t we just have a one general election with one single campaign season, instead of two moderately long ones?

            1. A combined primary-general election with IRV might be interesting.

        3. If they are private organization (and they should be) they should damn well pay for their own damn primaries.

          And I do mean pay for everything. They should be entitles to no help from the state in determining who is an eligible voter (well, I suppose they should be able to get a current voter roll if they pay the reproduction costs, and if any other organization can get it on the same terms), if they’ve tried to vote in another primary, or anything else.

  9. Whats “anti-democratic ” about letting everyone vote for who they want to in a primary?

    Basically there will be a general election(primary) and then a runoff. All it means is third party candidates get to be disappointed earlier in the year and they wont be able to screw over any candidate in the election by syphoning off votes.

    1. Whats “anti-democratic ” about letting everyone vote for who they want to in a primary?

      For the same reason I’m not allowed to vote in the local Elks’ chapter board of elders.

      1. Parties will have to choose their candidates before the primary election, and on their own dime, if they want to bother. If they don’t want to bother, that’s their problem.

        1. I’m all for taking government out of the primary process. But at this point, that’s a whole different discussion.

    2. Say you have a district where the electorate is split 54% for Party A and 46% for Party B. Because party a & b cannot control who runs in the primary under their party’s banner, in the open primary 3 candidates for Party A run and split their voters 18% apiece. Two candidates from Party B split their voters 24% apiece so the main election is between the two Party B candidates. Exactly how is that representative of what the majority of voters wanted? This system is way too easy to game.

    3. Whats “anti-democratic ” about letting everyone vote for who they want to in a primary?

      Taking the top two candidates, regardless of what percentage of the vote they get. With dozens of candidates and a few serious contenders in each major party, the finalists might have earned well under 50% of the overall vote, and not represent the will of the majority at all.

  10. As a registered Libertarian, I have been prevented from having my Party candidate on the ballot in November.

    1. Unless the LP candidate is one of the top two primary vote getters. And if he’s not, then he wouldn’t have stood any chance in Novemenber nohow.

      1. yeah but he may have been invited to a debate

  11. I agree with Brian. It greatly increases the chance of 3rd party candidate actually winning an election. In a highly contested primary, a reasonably funded 3rd party candidate could finish 2nd with 25% of the vote. At that point, all bets are off in the November election.

    1. If enough candidates run, the winner might be well under 25%. Second place could be in the low double digits.

      Remember this is California, where over 100 candidates ran for governor in the recall race. In that election, the leading candidates were obvious and drew much of the vote, but in a primary, confusion could easily reign.

      (2003: Arnold 49%, Bustamante 31%, McClintock 13%, Camejo 3%, everyone else 4%)

  12. For the life of me, I can’t see why this will result in more moderate candidates, either.

    Will this change who votes in primaries? I don’t see how.

    With the same people voting, why would the outcome change?

    Knuckle-dragging Social Con A, who “motivates the base” to win the Republican primary under the old system, will still get more votes than any other Republican.

    Ditto for feather-brained Crypto-Marxist B and the Dems.

    Result: motivating the base with hard-core partisan rantings still gets you on the ballot in November.

    1. With the same people voting, why would the outcome change?

      The outcome will change, because the same people are voting. Meaning that the primary will essentially BE the general election. Social Con A probably won’t be the second highest vote getter. He’ll probably be the third highest vote getter. In California, the top two vote getters would be Gray Davis and Jerry Brown.

      1. Well y’know, *because* it’ll essentially BE the general election (as you put it), there’s a definite chance it’ll attract more people. No telling till it happens, but seems perfectly plausible to me.

        But as others have pointed out, no telling it that will attract more moderate candidates. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this thread myself, it really doesn’t guarantee that parties can’t continue to choose their own candidates, they’ll just have to do it without the state running an election for them to do so.

        1. I’m not sure about “attracting” more moderate candidates means anything.

          I’m not even going as far as saying the results will be different, I’m merely saying that your general election will result in more moderate candidates remaining active. The primary can always have any crackpot that wishes to run.

          The difference will be that the crackpots will never make to the general election. Not that they’d win the general election, we just won’t see them after the primary.

          Washington ran a crazy social con named Ellen Craswell for governor a few years ago. She won the primary because the four Republican farmers in Eastern Washington voted for her. But she didn’t stand a chance in the general election.

          Craswell’s outspoken position on social issues ? including comments that gay rights were “special rights for sodomites”[2] ? did not resonate with voters in the state. In November, Craswell was defeated by Locke, receiving only 42.04% of the vote

          The difference now is that Washington will never see Ellen Craswell after the primary, but the result is still the same: We end up with a moderate mainstream tax-and-spend Democrat as governor who’s against for the tunnel.

    2. Or, let me say this another way:

      The top two vote getters will be Pro Union Candidate #1, and Really, really Pro Union Candiate #2.

  13. So my choice is… ‘or death’?

  14. I think it’s time for the San Andreas Fault to have a massive hiccup.

    1. Hmm, the government may have to conscript your services.

      1. You could escape to Bolivia

  15. California gets what it deserves.

    Didn’t the LP vote against funding to help stop this?

  16. We don’t need to speculate on the effect of an open primary. There are plenty of states with open primaries, and plenty with closed primaries. Do more people vote for third parties in the closed primary states? Do the open primary states have more moderate candidates? I want to see some statistics!

    1. Alabama
      Arkansas (open except in runoffs)
      Georgia (open except in runoffs)
      Idaho (Dems open caucus, Reps open primary) – whatever that means
      Minnesota (open caucuses)
      North Dakota (no voter registration- must only be resident)
      South Carolina (open except in runoffs)
      Texas (open except in runoffs)
      Virginia (Parties may choose to nominate by convention rather than primary)

      Various other states have mixed situations where one party has an open primary, but the other doesn’t.

    2. I think this is different. I think in those other states, the blues and reds get to switch colors, with the winner of each color getting on the ballot no matter what. Although this hardly guarantees third party success by any means, I think it improves it somewhat cause a minor party (or non-party!!!) candidate could actually knock one of the big two entirely OUT of the November election!! You can’t do that in all other “open primary” states, so there’s no incentive to vote outside the Blue/Red box in the primary.

    3. Careful about the meaning of “open primary”. In most places I’ve encountered that it means that I don’t have to be a registered dempublican to vote in the dempublican primary. But the dempublicans and the reocrats are still sending 1 candidate each to the general.

      That’s not the new situation in California. What the golden state just voted for is an open general election in the spring with the run-off scheduled for November.

      Big difference.

  17. Wow, completely limiting voters to two choices in general elections. Way to completely expose the worthlessness of our elections California. I guess I would be outraged is I actually thought voting made a difference anymore.

  18. Nader’s just pissed that the Repubs won’t have any reason to fund him anymore.

    I don’t see why Libertarians should be – this means more people will feel “safe” voting for them.

  19. I’m not sure this is a bad thing for 3rd parties. It seems to enhance the chances that in a highly contested election a 3rd part or independent candidate would end up in the top 2. It sounds like mandatory runoff elections, basically — the first election sends the two highest vote getters to a runoff where one of them has to get 50%+1 of the vote. Every elected official will have a majority of voters electing them.

  20. “Gov. Schwarzenegger loves it, thinking it means more “moderate” candidates will arise and problem-solve, rather than candidates forced to appeal in primaries to radical two-party maniacs defending their right and left flanks.”

    “Moderate” meaning the Establishment candidates of either major party win. Those people without a dime’s worth of difference between their basic governing philosophies. California’s road to ruin is further greased by those who would ignore that any hard choices have to be made.

    1. Exactly. No meaningful reform was ever brought about by moderates. All this will do is promote the statist establishment and further alienate people who want real change.

      Not to mention the fact that banning closed primaries violates the Association clause of the 1st Amendment. Not that anyone cares.

      1. I strongly doubt that

        No meaningful reform was ever brought about by moderates.

        If that were true, it would say that creative compromise, wherein an in-between position is better than either end, is nonexistent and might even be impossible. This I believe to be an unsupported belief, when you consider that compromises aren’t always X% of this and Y% of that, but often are some place in between those poles yet off the straight line between them and toward something better (or worse) than either one.

        So for example divorce came about long ago as a compromise between those who wanted all marriages to be considered eternal and those who wanted all suspect or challenged marriages to be invalidated. An in-between whereby couples were allowed to divorce came about, and isn’t that better than either pole? I’m sure I could come up with better examples of creative compromises if I thought about them, but I didn’t sleep enough last night.

  21. I think this could actually be very, very good for third parties. People would be more likely to vote for the candidate they most agree with in the primary than pay attention to who has the “best chance” to win the general election. The third parties are more likely to get a plurality or a second place than they are to win a majority. If they get on the ballot, they likely become the protest vote for all the people in the party who lost.

    If the third parties lose, both parties have to cater to that third party to try to win their general election vote. Thus even if we are stuck with two mainstream parties, the small percentage that goes to third parties becomes in play and the third parties can demand policy concessions.

    I really think this will end up being a godsend to third parties, who likely wouldn’t have won a bigger plurality against two major party candidates anyway and almost never get in the debates. Instead of fighting two major party candidates with their parties solidified behind them, they’d be likely fighting multiple candidates for each party breaking up the vote far more. Also, the fact that one only needs to win a smaller plurality to get on the ballot will only function to encourage even more people to jump into the race.

    1. It would be hilarious if the Green and the LP candidates got the two spots and the Republicrats were completely shut out in the next gubernatorial race.

      1. How soon do you bet that Prop. 14 would be repealed if THAT ever happened. I recall when an LP gubernatorial candidate made it to the debates in NJ some years back, under their campaign reform regime. First and LAST time that ever happened! You could hear the NJ donkeys braying and the elephants trumpeting in terror all the way over on the left coast! Lawsuits, demands to change the law, and other predictable, reactionary responses from the NJ Demos and GOP ensued.

        What will probably happen now is that the LP, if it continues in CA, will focus on the local, non-partisan races it now occasionally “wins,” and on gathering a considerable warchest, with which to entice celebrity candidates who already have reputation and name-recognition.

        But I am expecting, instead, for the CA LP to wither and die. It may rise again, once voters see what “Abel’s folly” brings. But that will be years from now and I’ll be too old to care very much…

  22. What exactly is preventing a libertarians from running as republicans or democrats in the primary?

    Or greens from running as republicans or democrats?

    The whole argument seems to be that politicians now have less choice in the name that is beside their name.

    What is so terrible about a 3rd partyish individual looking at elected offices in California they want to run in see that duchbag2 party has won the last 10 elections and simply run as a duchbag2 candidate?

    This looks like a big none issue to me. And in fact if 3rd party types game the system they hypothetically could could get their ideas and platforms accepted as more mainstream simply by putting duchbag1 or duchbag2 next to their name.

    Also what is preventing third parties from endorsing candidates they like?

    To me this could very easily be a way to further erode the two party system at least in fact if not in name.

    1. It’s a pretty theory. I hope you’re right.

    2. Even better, candidates can choose to have no party label at all! (One of the few upsides to Prop 14.)

  23. This is how David Duke got in the runoff for governor of Louisiana.

  24. All sounds like one big giant mess to me dude.

  25. This will kill the LP and Green parties in California, sadly.

    The language of the proposition was incredibly deceptive. From the official voters’ guide:


  26. Come to think of it, why should only the top vote-getter in either party be allowed to run in the general?? I’m all for more voices and choices, and I’m pretty sure voters can handle getting informed and choosing between 4 or maybe 6 candidates, at least.

    And I’m all for empowering 3rd parties and Indies to be on the ballot as well. I mean, there were OVER 100 parties that ran in the first Iraqi election a few years ago. And we only get 2 major ones, and the 3rd parties have go through ridiculous hurdles just to get recognized?? WHY?

    Are the 2 major parties any less radical and ridiculous than some of the more “radical” 3rd parties or Indy candidates? I think not.

  27. The primary system is stupid. You’re not voting for the leader but someone to RUN FOR that position. Do unions have primaries to see who from each wing or faction can run for the presidency? Of course not. No other organization except political parties behaves this way when running for leadership of office. It’s archaic.

    1. What other reasonable ways are there to do it in systems of gov’t such as those in the USA and its divisions? The party is its own organiz’n, theoretically, and can’t do any more to influence gov’t than put up candidates for elected office. It’s not like a parliamentary system wherein the party can become the gov’t after an election, which may in some cases come on short notice, and have its own leadership step into that of the gov’t.

      Unions and other such organiz’ns are unlikely to have primaries to elect candidates for its own offices, because the union is its own organiz’n. Gov’t at least theoretically by contrast does not control political parties, which are independent of it and of each other. So their membership needs some means to carry out such business, whether by primary election or conventions or caucuses of some sort.

      It’s not the mere fact of having a candidate selection process which takes the wishes of the grass roots into account that’s stupid, but it is stupid the way over the past century or so in much of the USA the parties have become so entwined with the official gov’t election apparatus that it’s not always clear whether they’re carrying out their own functions or those of gov’t, and the court precedents aren’t all on one side in that regard. So the system is two-faced.

  28. I say let all the candidates who wanna run RUN! Let the fucking voters decide who’s gonna win, not elitist fucktards within the parties deciding for us, who think only ONE person should represent the entire party, as if having more than one representative will “divide the party” or some bullshit reasoning like that.

    What’s the worst that could happen? I mean, Americans in NO district in the country are going to elect a KKK or Nazi candidate. There just is no area in the country with enough racists and antisemites for that to happen. Some wacky candidates from places like Utah may arise, but they won’t be the next David Duke or anything. I’m sure of that.

  29. How does any of this represent a “corporatist agenda”? Naders rant looks like nonsense to me.

  30. Bottom line, it can’t be any worse than the current system. And I think it might end up being an improvement.

    Let’s take a libeal place like SF. Two Dems are almost certain to win in the primary, but then when you get in the general election, the conservatives and moderates will probably vote for the more moderate Democrate (instead of the super liberal that would have been the only Dem choice in the old system). Thus you get more moderate people in.

  31. The fundamental flaw in all this is that only highly committed partisan/ideologues vote in primaries. “Moderates” only show up for the general (if at all).

    So why would a moderate candidate get a plurality of votes from partisan/ideologue primary voters?

    We’ll see, I guess. But if this results in any positive change in California governance, I’ll eat Warty’s shorts.

    1. Do you really think it can get any worse?

      Anyway, I voted for it, CA is already a shithole, I figure anything is worth a try

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