Will the Next Calif. Secretary of State Defend Nonpartisan Primaries?

In 2010, California became the second state to adopt a nonpartisan primary system. This should be most markedly distinguished from traditional primary systems by its purpose. Unlike in most states, where primaries are conducted for the private purpose of electing a party nominee, California and Washington state voters changed their election system to one conducted for the public purpose of narrowing a candidate field.

In other words, California and Washington’s systems treat every voter and candidate the same, regardless of their party affiliation or non-affiliation.

The secretary of state administers California elections and interprets the state’s laws related thereto.

This year, 7 candidates, including State Senator Alex Padilla (D), Derek Cressman (D), Jeff Drobman (D), Pete Peterson (R), Roy Allmond (R), David Curtis (Green), and Dan Schnur (No Party Preference) are vying to be the next California secretary of state. Curtis would support the top-two system if alterations were made, while Drobman, Allmond, Schnur, and Peterson are supportive — with some reservations. Curtis feels the top-two system takes too much power away from third parties — a notion Peterson and Schnur acknowledged. Regarding the presidential primaries, the candidates recognized the inconsistencies with California’s Election Code and California’s Constitution, and they largely agree that California’s Constitution — which calls for open presidential primaries — should be followed.

Each of the candidates were sent the following letter from the Independent Voter Project (IVP), author of the 2010 nonpartisan primary initiative. The candidate responses are provided below in the order they were returned to IVP (Dan Schnur’s interview took place via phone):

Please feel free to answer the questions in any way and at any length you want. We understand and respect the fact that sometimes the best answer for you may be that you are still uncertain, but have an open mind.

 

State-Wide Elections   California’s Proposition 14 has been challenged in the Courtroom by three separate lawsuits. Each lawsuit has been, to date, successfully defended. The Independent Voter Project, author of Proposition 14, has intervened in each case as a defendant.   Further, the United States Supreme Court recently refused to hear a lawsuit challenging California’s Proposition 8. The Court ruled on procedural grounds, holding that the intervening party does not have standing to defend State laws when the State refuses to defend its own laws.

 

Questions: 1. Do you personally support California’s nonpartisan, top-two primary? 2. Would you, as Secretary of State, defend the nonpartisan, top-two system on behalf of the State and the People of California?

 

Presidential Elections C.A. Const. art. 2, § 5(c) requires the Secretary of State to conduct an ‘open presidential primary’ election.  In an “Open Primary,” a voter’s right to participate may not be conditioned on joining a political party.   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.

 

Questions:

 

  1. Did the Secretary of State properly and Constitutionally conduct California’s 2012 presidential primary election?
  1. 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?
  1. If the answer to the first question is “No,” (a) Why was a semi-closed primary conducted instead of an ‘open presidential primary’? and, (b) Will the Secretary of State conduct a presidential primary in 2016 that comports with California’s Constitutional requirements?
  2. Should taxpayers fund an election scheme that is conducted for the purpose of nominating private party nominees (see Democratic Party v. Jones)?

Do you personally support California’s nonpartisan, top-two primary?

David Curtis: I do not support it. It discriminates against minor parties by limiting voter choice in the general election to only two candidates. It creates an artificial and high barrier to participation in the general election.

Jeff Drobman: Yes. The “top-two” open primary is not a “jungle,” but simply functions just like any nonpartisan race. In nonpartisan races, primary elections have always been completely open to all candidates, and there is always a top-two runoff IF no candidate gets a majority. So the only subtle difference for partisan races between the new “open top-two” primary and the old system for nonpartisan races is that candidates winning a majority in the primary must still face a runoff.That and the fact that candidates still declare their party preferences in partisan races (which is a good thing, to know where a candidate stands).

Moreover, the Secretary of State should likely be a nonpartisan office anyway. So holding an open primary for this office makes sense. Finally, to address the protests of the minor parties: I claim that the new open primary merely moves the minor party / independent candidate elections to the primary, from the general elections. All those candidates still get the same opportunity as before: a single election where their names appear as candidates (just moved up a few months).

Dan Schnur: Yes, I support the top-two system. But I believe that we need to do much more to open up the system to smaller parties. We should be lowering the threshold for qualification for a third party to make the ballot. There’s two particular changes that should be made for smaller parties. One is lowering the filing fee for smaller parties to get on the ballot.

I would also lower the signature threshold. I would lower the fee for candidate statements to be included in the ballot pamphlet. There may be other changes as well, but you can have a top-two primary that encourages, rather than discourages, participation.

Roy Allmond: I feel that this process is closer to what the Founding Fathers envisioned. While some feel it is wrong to deny choices, I feel that if the choices were so great, and in demand, their choice would be in the top two.

Pete Peterson: I do support it, but acknowledge that it has been detrimental to many (but not all) non-major Party candidates.  This was a process approved by California’s voters in Prop 14, and I believe it can serve to improve overall civic engagement.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Alex Padilla and Derek Cressman have not responded to multiple requests for comment. Padilla has made conflicting comments in support and opposition of nonpartisan voter rights. Cressman has publicly opposed the nonpartisan primary.]

Would you, as Secretary of State, defend the nonpartisan, top-two system on behalf of the State and the People of California?

David Curtis: No, I would do away with the top-two primary, first in the special elections and I would ask the legislature to modify the primary to allow for all balloted parties to be represented in the general election.

Jeff Drobman: Yes. For the reasons mentioned.

Dan Schnur:  Yes, I would defend it.

Roy Allmond: I feel that the Secretary of State should simply do their job. Facilitate voters so they can make intelligent choices, and have their voices heard.

Pete Peterson: Yes, but I wonder if a more robust “write in” system for the General Election, might not help non-major Party candidates to participation in a full election cycle.  

Did the Secretary of State properly and Constitutionally conduct California’s 2012 presidential primary election?

David Curtis: This is a question for the courts to decide

Jeff Drobman: Yes. I believe so (but I am not certain). I believe I was allowed to vote for any candidate in any party. It may have been that at that election, no party blocked open voting.

Dan Schnur: I’m unsure, but as a no party preference voter, I believe I should be able to participate in a presidential primary.

Roy Allmond: Right now deference is given to federal laws. I would not expect State laws to be applied to federal elections. I would trust that Debra Bowen (or more applicable her staff ) have followed all applicable laws. Otherwise a lawsuit would have been filed.

Pete Peterson: I’m not sure. It is obvious that the constitution mandates an “open presidential primary,” but “Open Primary” is also a specific type of elections process, and I’m not sure these two terms that seem very much the same, mean the same thing legally and/or constitutionally.

If “Yes,” 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?

Jeff Drobman: I don’t know Secretary of State Bowen’s explanation, but I would seek to reconcile the constitution with the elections code — with the latter being needed to conform to the former.

 

If “No,” Will the Secretary of State conduct a presidential primary in 2016 that comports with California’s Constitutional requirements? 

David Curtis: This is a question for the courts to decide

Dan Schnur (3b): Yes, I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my party stance in order to help pick the next President of the United States.

Roy Allmond (3b): Yes, for all elections under my jurisdiction.

Pete Peterson (3b): Absolutely. If it is determined that the constitution mandates an actual “open primary” (understood as non-major Party registered voters being allowed to vote), then it should be conducted in conformance with the constitution.

Should taxpayers fund an election scheme that is conducted for the purpose of nominating private party nominees (see Democratic Party v. Jones)?

David Curtis: The Green Party supports public campaign financing. I think public money should be pooled and all balloted candidates get the same amount of money. The task of nominating people for private parties is up to those parties. A balloted political party is not the same thing as a private party. Political parties are maintaining processes that support public government. That is not a private concern. Also, political affiliations are declared publicly on ballots.

Roy Allmond: No

Jeff Drobman: I don’t know that case. I believe the public has always funded party nomination voting via the primary elections. I don’t see why this has to change.

Pete Peterson: I don’t know the background on this case, but if this is in reference to 3(b) above, taxpayers should support elections that are in agreement with the California Constitution.   Candidates will be participating in a debate on Tuesday, May 6 at 6:30pm PT, and California’s state-wide primaries are scheduled for June 3,2014.

Editor’s note: IVN is expecting responses from Alex Padilla and Derek Cressman which will be added when they are received.

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