Proposed Amendment Would Limit Voter Choice in California

Proposed Amendment Would Limit Voter Choice in California

California State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Ventura County) have introduced identical proposed state constitutional amendments that would change the top-two open primary section of the California Constitution. Lara’s bill is SCA 12 and Gorell’s is ACA 9.

Article II, section 5 of the California Constitution includes the new primary rules, which say that the two candidates who get the most votes in the primary, for Congress or partisan state office, go on the November ballot.

The Lara-Gorell amendment would change the language of this section to say that if the person who came in second in a primary is a write-in candidate, he or she could not be on the November ballot unless he or she received approximately 120,000 write-ins for a statewide office, 3,200 write-ins for State Senate, 1,600 write-ins for Assembly, or 2,500 write-ins for a congressional race. The specific formula is one percent of the last general election vote total for that office.

In 2012, there were eight California congressional or legislative races in which only one person filed to be on the June primary ballot. However, in six of those races, a write-in candidate (or several write-in candidates) also filed for the primary.

Naturally, the write-in candidate (or one of them) then placed second in the primary and ran in November.

Yet, if the Lara-Gorell proposal had been in effect, none of the June write-in candidates could have qualified for the November ballot, even though they did place second. Therefore, there would have been eight elections with only one candidate on the November ballot and no ability for a voter to vote against that one candidate since there is no write-in space in the general election for congressional and state races.

The two legislators say they are only restoring the former law on write-ins. Before top-two came into existence, in partisan primaries, no one was permitted to be nominated at a partisan primary by write-ins unless the candidate received write-ins equal to one percent of the last general election vote for that office.

This argument, that the proposal merely restores the old status quo, is not persuasive, however, because under the old system there was write-in space on the November ballot. The legislature abolished write-in space for federal and state elections last year.

Before 2012, voters in the general election always had some freedom of choice for whom to vote. Even in general election races with only one candidate on the ballot, a voter was free to vote against that one candidate by casting a write-in vote.

In June 2012, in Assembly District 31, the only name on the ballot was Henry T. Perea, a Democrat. But, a write-in Republican, James Bennett, filed as a write-in and received 299 write-ins in June.

Because Bennett placed second, he was on the November ballot and polled 31,282 votes, whereas Perea received 55,626. If the Lara-Gorell proposal had been in effect, Bennett would not have been on the November ballot and the 36 percent who voted for him would have been disenfranchised.

The proposed constitutional revision violates the purpose of Proposition 14, which is “to protect and preserve the right of every Californian to vote for the candidate of his or her choice.”