In 2010, California voters passed the nonpartisan, “top-two open primary” initiative. The initiative fundamentally changed the purpose of primary elections from one conducted for the purpose of electing private party nominees, to one conducted for the purpose of narrowing the field of candidates, regardless of either the voters’ or candidates’ party affiliation.
Since its enactment, the initiative has been challenged unsuccessfully by political parties in three separate lawsuits. Each time, the court has sided with those defending the nonpartisan primary system, including the initiative’s author, the Independent Voter Project.
Political party leaders generally do not like the nonpartisan, “top-two” open primary because they no longer are given the exclusive right to treat the primary process as “their own.” Because the primary is no longer conducted “for the private purpose of electing party nominees,” the parties can no longer prevent non-registered members, including independent voters, from participating in what is most often the most critical stage of the election: the primary.
Without an entitlement to use taxpayer funding to conduct their private primaries, political parties continue to deride the new nonpartisan primary system using carefully polled talking points that are crafted in terms of “party choice” rather than “voter rights.”
For example, the most common attack on the top-two open primary is that it is “anti-choice” because two Republicans or two Democrats could face off against each other in the general election, giving voters “no choice” in the general election.
This argument ignores two simple realities and makes a common misconception.
- In most districts, one party has 'control' of the district. We witness this on those big blue and red maps that CNN, Fox, and MSNBC project on your screen every election season. Therefore, in these districts, the only meaningful vote occurs during the primary stage of the election — because there is no real competition in the general election.
- Under a nonpartisan system, voters of all parties, including independent and minor parties, for the first time have a chance to affect the outcome of the person that can actually get elected.
The misconception is that every Republican and Democrat is the same. Encouraged by our common political discourse, we tend to think of candidates in terms of their party, and not the person themselves. When we think about representatives in terms of people, we recognize that some Republicans may be very different than others. The same goes for Democrats. What the nonpartisan primary did was — for the first time — ask voters to focus on the candidate, and not the party.
This is especially important in R v. R and D v. D. races. Under the old system, the party-supported R or D would have de facto won the election during the primary stage. Under the new nonpartisan, top-two system, independent voters and voters from a minor party have a chance to vote for a representative that might just be a better representative for them than the one who just needed the support of his or her own party members.
The following is a partial list of California candidates who support the right of all voters to have equal and meaningful participation in California’s elections. If you want to add a candidate to this list, please let us know.
Roy Allmond (R)Secretary of State
“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.”
Jeff Drobman (D)Secretary of State
“Yes. The “top-two” open primary is not a “jungle,” but simply functions just like any nonpartisan race.”
Dan Schnur (NPP)Secretary of State
“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.”
Pete Peterson (R)Secretary of State
“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.”
Scott Peters (D)52nd Congressional District
“It was a really good thing. Makes its more of a competition; makes it harder for me now because I have a more competitive race. More elected officials also face more competitions.”
Tom Lynch (D)Assembly District 2
On Lynch’s website, he says that he advocates for term limits, open primary ballot measure, and he would oppose AB 2113 legislation enabling counties to impose an income tax.
Dr. Vito Imbasciani (D)Senate District 26
“I absolutely support the non-partisan open primary system currently in place. The open primary creates a system that pulls us from the ideological extremes that polarize our politics and allows for the middle ground to have a strong voice in our politics. It is the only way to keep Sacramento from turning into another version of Washington, DC, where ideological entrenchment is the norm. The problems our state is facing require legislators to look, not just to their own parties, but to heed the spirit of our Founding Fathers by working together to find compromise. Thanks to the open primary system, we can choose political leaders that best fit our beliefs, not just the best of the worst.”
Seth Stodder (NPP)Senate District 26
“In enacting Non-Partisan Open Primary, we the voters of California were clear: We want to end mindless partisanship, and we want our politicians in Sacramento to solve California’s challenges, drawing upon the brightest minds and the best ideas — regardless of political party. As the only Independent No Party Preference candidate in the race for Senate District 26, I am a strong believer in the right of independent voters to participate in primary elections and vote for whomever they choose, regardless of party.”
Barbi Appelquist (D)Senate District 26
“I will defend California’s Nonpartisan Open Primary system.”
Bill Dodd (D)Assembly District 4
“Disenfranchisement of independent voters like what is being done in states like Colorado is absolutely wrong.”
Tim Gorsulowsky (R)Assembly District 9
“I absolutely will support the open primary. We have seen occasions in the past when some people were unable to vote because of their affiliation.”