California Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) and state Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) co-authored ACR 145, urging the secretary of state to issue a nonpartisan ballot for voters who either can’t or don’t want to vote in a political party’s primary election. The Independent Voter Project provided legal research to both legislators and the legislative analyst and had previously discussed its legal analysis with the secretary of state and his lawyers, including the issue of spending taxpayer dollars on an important stage of the public election process that is controlled exclusively by the private political parties.
“ACR 145 strikes a balance between the constitutionally-protected rights of voters to select a presidential candidate – regardless of political party preference – with the rights of political parties to determine who may or may not participate in their private nomination proceedings,” Assemblymember Olsen said. “We shouldn’t be disenfranchising voters in an open primary state by not giving them an opportunity to vote for the most important office in America.”
Under California’s statewide elections, voters can choose to vote for any candidate, regardless of the voter or the candidate’s party affiliation. However, for the presidential election, only Republican voters can vote for Republican candidates, and independent voters (called “No Party Preference”, or “NPP” voters in California) can only vote for Democratic, Libertarian, or American Independent candidates, and only if they actively request a ballot for these parties.
Voters who would want to vote for a Republican candidate would have to register as a Republican within fifteen (15) days of the election to do so.
If this sounds confusing, It is. And that is one of the concerns the resolution seeks to avoid:
“WHEREAS, Voters in California have become accustomed to voter-nominated primary elections, and therefore, voters are likely to be confused if they cannot vote for the candidate of their choice, with regard to political party preference.”
Additionally, the resolution states that, “Pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 5 of Article II of the California Constitution, the Legislature is required to provide for an open presidential primary election.” However, “[t]he Legislature has provided for a semi-closed primary election system, as reflected in Section 13102 of the Elections Code, under which a voter who is not registered as disclosing a preference with any one of the political parties participating in the election may vote a ballot of a political party only if the party, by party rule duly noticed to the Secretary of State, permits a person to do so.”
The resolution before the Assembly asks Padilla to exercise his authority to ensure that California voters get to vote for the candidate of their choice whether or not they register with a given political party.
“Resolved, That the Legislature urges the Secretary of State to prepare an advisory ballot for the presidential primary election that would allow a voter who did not request or vote a ballot of a political party in that election to submit an advisory vote for a candidate for the office of President of the United States; and be it further
Resolved, That the Legislature urges the Secretary of State to list on the advisory ballot each qualified candidate for the office of President of the United States, regardless of the candidate’s political party preference…”
According to the resolution, the parties will not be required to allow nonmembers to participate in their nomination proceedings nor would they be required to consider the results of the nonpartisan primary when selecting their party nominee for president. The resolution only asks the secretary of state to create a ballot that would open the process up more to independent voters who want to participate, but also don’t want to affiliate with a political party.
“A majority of new voters are choosing not to express a political party preference. Excluding them from this important stage of a publicly-funded election process of choosing the next president is voter discrimination. IVP is dedicated to protecting the voting rights of every voter regardless of political preferences,” says Dan Howle, co-chair of the Independent Voter Project.
Over the last two years, the Independent Voter Project has led a coalition of nonpartisan organization and 7 individual plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of New Jersey’s closed primary system, which allows only Republican and Democratic party voters to participate, despite the state’s 47% independent voter registration. As court precedent stands today, a voter must join one of the two qualified political parties in that state as a condition of gaining the right to vote during the primary election.
IVP has expressed their intent to challenge this legal requirement in other states as part of a long-term strategy to protect the rights of every individual voter, regardless of his or her party affiliation.