In January 2014, the Independent Voter Project (IVP) withdrew an initiative for the general election ballot that would have required California to conduct nonpartisan elections for its presidential primary. IVP is the same organization that authored California’s current nonpartisan “top-two” primary system, which already applies to elections conducted for congressional and state offices. In the interest of disclosure, IVP is also a publisher of IVN.us.
In withdrawing the initiative, IVP co-chairs Steve Peace and Jeff Marston asked Secretary of State Debra Bowen to clarify the apparent discrepancy between the current California Constitutional language that requires the state to conduct an “open presidential primary” and the semi-closed primary that the state actually conducted in 2012.
From IVP’s letter to the secretary of state:
C.A. Const. art. 2, § 5(c) requires the Secretary of State to conduct an ‘open presidential primary’ election.
According to the dictionaries of both Oxford and Merriam-Webster, an ‘open primary’ is defined, respectively as:
a primary election in which voters are not required to declare party affiliation and, a primary in which the voter is not required to indicate party affiliation
Yet, pursuant to California Elections Code Section 13102(b), a voter not affiliated with a political party may not participate in the selection of candidates during the presidential primary stage unless a political party allows the voter to participate.
This presidential primary election scheme appears to be a semi-closed primary system, not the system contemplated by the California Constitution.
With this in mind, IVP requested that the secretary of state respond to the following questions:
1. Did the Secretary of State properly and Constitutionally conduct California’s 2012 presidential primary election?
2. If the answer to the first question is “Yes,”
(a) How does the Secretary of State explain the apparent conflict between the Constitutional language, the statutory implementation, and the actual administration of the 2012 presidential primary election?
3. If the answer to the first question is “No,”
(a) Why was a semi-closed primary conducted instead of an ‘open presidential primary’?
(b) Will the Secretary of State conduct a presidential primary in 2016 that comports with California’s Constitutional requirements?
Bowen’s office has yet to respond to these questions. Whether or not the secretary of state believes the 2012 presidential primary was conducted properly, her non-responsiveness could be an indication that she herself does not know the answer to these questions. In that regard, these questions may become increasingly important for those eying to run for secretary of state in 2014.