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Why Open Primaries Will Benefit Californians

by Susannah Kopecky, published

And now something completely different: an "open" primary, in more ways than one!

Republican California Sen. Abel Maldonado is to thank for the possibility of the open primary, an amendment to the state constitution known as SCA 4 or "The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act." The deal-sweetener of February 19's budget, this act would provide a much-needed form of transparency, and may give innovative independents and conservatives their first real chance at meaningful and possibly majority-drive statewide leadership in many years.

If passed by voters, this act will abolish the practice of locked-in party politics, forcing political parties to give up the practice of formal nominations, as the voters would be the ultimate deciders of which two candidates would go forward. Neither of the final two candidates would even have to share their political party preference.

The California Constitution currently "provides that all judicial, school, county, and city offices are nonpartisan offices, and a political party or party central committee is prohibited from endorsing, supporting, or opposing a candidate for such an office." Funny thing is, that doesn't appear to be very well heeded in the present day, does it?

If this act is approved, voters may no longer have to kowtow to the extremes of our two major political parties.

In the open primary, a number of factors change. First, voters will not have to vote solely for who is running in their designated party of choice. Ideally, this would provide a selection of more moderate candidates. In theory, Republicans, Democrats and everyone in between would be selecting the top two candidates, who could both belong to the same political party, if each garnered the two amount of votes.

Why would this be so beneficial for California?

In a state generally locked into Democratic hands come presidential election time, it can sometimes seem like the very active state Democratic Party has only to answer to its own members. However, if two Democrats were to come away with the two highest vote tallies after a gubernatorial primary, at least one of these candidates will be expected to move toward the center, to win those conservative and moderate votes. Ditto for Republicans, who, if they sought to win a majority, would need to move to the center to satisfy the greatest number of voters. All too often, moderates and conservatives in California bemoan that their voices simply aren't heard at the polls, especially every four years, with the Electoral College system.

With a system like the open primary, more moderates, and even fiscal conservatives, could get a fair shot at statewide leadership, without being punished for their political principles.

The actual vote for the open primary will not take place until June of 2010. In the meantime, voters can consider: are they better off with rigid party labels of yesterday, or will Californians once again vote to innovate, rewarding good ideas, regardless of their party origins?

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