California Prop 14

In Tuesday’s election in California, Proposition 14 would eliminate the current system of partisan primaries and institute a majority-runoff system.

It’s a bad system for voter choice, meaning no third-party or independent candidates on the November ballot (unless one of them happened to have made the top two in the first round, five months earlier when issues may have been different and turnout lower). Many districts under this “reform” may have two Democrats or two Republicans as the only candidates in the “general” election.

I agree with Stop Top Two that Californians should vote no on 14.

8 thoughts on “California Prop 14

  1. Rational discussion of Prop 14 is made difficult by the fact that proponents insist on using the word “primary” to describe the first round. That echoes the common complaint that partisan primaries are unfair because not everyone can vote in them — a complaint that is really a call for non-partisan elections, although those who make it rarely recognize this. Or maybe they do recognize it, and realize that they will get more traction by obfuscation than they will by plain speaking.

    Top two would not be objectionable — at least not compared with plurality — if it were preceded by some mechanism for parties to nominate candidates. As it is, even truly non-partisan elections would be better than this monstrosity, which retains party labels on the ballot but puts their use in the hands of candidates rather than the parties themselves.

    Worst of all, this would end up bringing us even closer than we already are to a pure two-party system, because it will have the practical effect of excluding at least two of California’s minor parties from the first round, never mind the second round. It does this by eliminating the easier of the two existing tests for staying on the ballot. Neither the Libertarian nor Peace and Freedom parties meet the remaining test.


  2. This proposed system “retains party labels on the ballot but puts their use in the hands of candidates rather than the parties themselves.” Well put, Bob.

    I was not even aware of the provision to change the rules on third-party qualification.


  3. One would think you folks would support this system, since runoff elections have historically broken free of two-party domination.

    Normally, if you’re e.g. a Green, most voters won’t support you (or even take the time to learn about you) because they think you’re “unelectable”. In order to show that you’re electable it’s extremely important to have

    A) The nomination of a major party, and
    B) Lots of money

    But if you can just run as a “Democrat”, then voters might be happy to support you, even if you lean very Progressive, and might identify with Greens on lots of issues. Maybe that strikes some as dishonest, but this whole system seems likely to add up to a environment in which third party candidates have a better chance at winning elections.

    I’m sure it’s not without its downsides, but I’m not sure you’re fairly acknowledging its potential benefits.


  4. I see no reason to expect this system to have any impact on breaking the two-party system. In fact, it could reinforce it–if that is even possible, given the marginality of other parties.

    Clay is quite right that where two-round systems are used elsewhere outside the USA, they have tended to be associated with multiparty systems. However, that relationship is based on there being parties that have effective control over nominations, settling each on one candidate before the first round. It also, in the case of legislative elections, implies regional variation in party support, such that parties form alliances to exchange support across districts for the runoff.

    None of these conditions exists, or is likely to emerge, in California. For the main reasons why, I refer readers to Bob’s comment above, regarding the use of party labels.

    The more relevant parallel would seem to be Louisiana’s experience, where the system did nothing to break down two-party (or even, for a long time, one-party) dominance.


  5. Finally, being a native Louisianan comes in handy.

    Yes, Louisiana no longer uses this system for Congressional elections. Governor Blanco signed a bill in ‘06 to get rid of it by 2008. I’m assuming she did so in response to the Democrats’ weakening presence in the state. Interesting enough, it was another Democrat, Governor Edwin Edwards (who I believe is still in jail), who implemented the system in the first place. At the time, the Republicans were the weaker of the two parties.


  6. Pingback: California’s STUPID electoral system, 2022 first round edition | Fruits and Votes

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