Voters Approve “Top Two” Primary Reform In California — Proposition 14 — Will It Strengthen Or Hurt Democracy?

In Tuesday’s election, California voters statewide overwhelmingly Proposition 14 and so, starting in 2011, there will be a big change in California’s election system.

The NYT reports, “Under Proposition 14, a measure that easily passed, traditional party primaries will be replaced in 2011 with wide-open elections. The top two vote-getters — whatever their party, or if they have no party at all — will face off in the general election.”

Pro “Top Two” supporters, like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, argued that Proposition 14 would strengthen California democracy. The idea is, this change in election law, “would empower candidates who, because they refuse to pander to the party machines, are now reluctant to throw their hats into the ring.” The idea is that more moderates will be elected.

But those opposed to Proposition 14, like Ralph Nader, emphasized the opposite and warned that Proposition 14 would harm California democracy.  According to this “Stop Two” web-site, “Groups across the political landscape – from tea parties to labor unions to independents – opposed the antidemocratic measure because it will limit their November ballot choices to only two candidates. All six qualified parties in California opposed the measure.”

Nader responding to Proposition 14’s approval by stating, “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? ”

Longtime activist, Harry Kresky, wrote a thoughtful article in the Sacramento Bee, urging a “Yes” vote for Proposition 14. Kresky wrote, “Since Proposition 14 is an attempt to loosen the hold that the major parties have on our democracy by their iron-fisted control of the nominating process, it is no surprise that the major parties – whose tyranny Nader denounces – are doing everything they can to defeat it.”

Other excerpts from Kresky’s article:

  • Proposition 14 will give the 3,466,855 independent voters in California who are not enrolled in a political party the right to participate in the primary elections that determine who will appear on the general election ballot. If Prop. 14 passes, independents will be on equal footing with other voters.
  • Proposition 14 is an important step towards nonpartisan governance. Voters will be voting for candidates, not parties, and there is a real opportunity for coalitions of independents, parties (minor and major) and party members to join together to support reform-oriented candidates. Under Proposition 14, an effective coalition can propel a candidate not favored by the party establishment (major and minor) to round two, with a real chance to win.
  • For those concerned with party building – major or minor – having strong spokespersons in the first round will help parties enlarge their base, arguably much more effectively than running what often amount to fringe candidacies in the general election that do not have an impact on either the election or public policy.
  • Third-party advocates argue that they function as incubators for political and social change. Yet since World War II, social movements have been more effective in producing sweeping change than third parties.
  • The most effective way for “outsider” movements for innovation and progressive change to transform the political mainstream is for third parties and social reform groups to come together to nurture the development of a mass movement.
  • It’s particularly disturbing that at a moment when millions of independents are knocking at the door of an electoral process from which they are excluded, Ralph Nader and the third party movement would want to slam it shut.
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