Poll Shows Californians Favoring Open Primaries

In
a likely indicator of voter displeasure with all things Sacramento
these days, a recently released poll shows that a clear majority of
Californians support the idea of having an “open primary” which would
allow the two top vote-getters (regardless of party) to advance to the
general election.

According to the San Francisco-based Public Policy Institute of California,
the open primary idea — one of several last minute deals brokered from
this year’s tortured state budget negotiations — received a 59 percent
favorable rating during a recent survey. Only 31 percent thought it was a bad idea.

Although
the question will not appear on the May 19 special election ballot,
Californians will soon get their chance to decide whether to open up
the structure of our primary elections.

This
particular kind of open primary is technically a voter-nominated
primary and not a party-nominated one. That’s not to say that parties
won’t have an influence on the process — far from it. They will still
be able to sponsor, campaign and support their particular favorites.

But if “No-Name” and “Also-Ran” happen to collect the
largest number of votes, then they go on to the fall general election.

Sometimes
there is a certain beauty in acts of political symbolism. This may be
one of them. The idea of the voters establishing open primaries can’t
help but appeal to those with populist streaks and those that have
become tired of hearing the same rhetoric of the two main parties.

Interestingly,
Golden State voters rejected the idea of establishing open primaries in
2004. That year, Prop. 62, the Voter Choice Open Primary Act, went down
to defeat in large part due to a successful competing measure, Prop.
60, which would have served to reaffirm the state’s party-driven
primary process.

This all may be much ado about nothing.

Even
if the voters approve the measure, money — for good or bad — will
continue to influence election outcomes. And let’s face it, Democrats
and Republicans are the best and most experienced at raising the most
campaign cash. No one else is better at getting the fat cats to write
the fat checks.

That
said, if voters approve open primaries in the state, at least the
electoral barn door for third parties will have been unlocked. What
they do with that opportunity remains to be seen.

Jeff Mitchell is a longtime California journalist and political observer.