by Tom Intorcio
On June 8, 54 percent of California's voters approved Proposition 14 to adopt a top two primary. Forty-six percent opposed the measure. It was referred to the ballot by the Legislature and proposed converting the state's partially closed primary to a model patterned after Washington's top two primary. Under the current, partially closed primary system, separate ballots are prepared for each political party. Voters select candidates from their own party's ballot, and the winning candidates are nominated onto the general election ballot. Parties determine whether unaffiliated voters may participate in their primary contests. California is one of 14 states that scheduled a partially closed primary in 2010.
Proposition 14 will move California to a top two primary effective January 1, 2011. Aside from Washington, only Louisiana currently uses this type of primary in partisan legislative elections. In a top two primary, all candidates, regardless of their party affiliation, appear on a single, consolidated ballot. Candidates have the option to add their party "preference" to their name on the ballot, or may decline to state a party preference. Voters may then vote for any candidate, regardless of the voter's and candidate's political party affiliation. The two candidates receiving the most votes advance to the general election. Unlike Washington's version, the new California law does not allow any write-in votes. Partially closed primaries will continue for presidential candidates and party organization offices.
The top two legislative referendum was sponsored by former senator and newly appointed Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado. California's Democratic legislative majority backed the referendum as a concession for then-senator Maldonado's vote in support of Governor Schwarzenegger's 2009 budget compromise. The governor campaigned heavily for Proposition 14, with key support from an atypical coalition of reform activists and business groups. U.S. House Speaker Pelosi, a California Democrat, urged Californians to reject the measure as did leaders of the state's two major parties. She argued that the measure would distort the political process. Californians rejected a similar proposition in 2004.