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CA Assembly Committee Denies Voters Access to Presidential Primary

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Created: 31 March, 2016
Updated: 16 October, 2022
6 min read

A resolution that would ask California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to use his authority as the state's chief elections official to add a nonpartisan public option ballot in the June 7 presidential primary died Wednesday in the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting. In a 3-2 vote against the resolution, ACR 145 did not get the 4 'Aye' votes needed to move out of committee.

Notably, and testament to the bill’s nonpartisan nature, the bill was authored by two independent-minded Republicans, yet the only “yes” votes came from two independent-minded Democrats.

ACR 145, authored by Republican Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (Modesto) and Republican State Senator Anthony Cannella (Ceres), was co-authored by Democratic Assemblymember Tom Daly (D-Anaheim), and sponsored by the Independent Voter Project (IVP). The resolution would simply ask Secretary of State Padilla to provide nonpartisan voters with a non-binding “public ballot” option in the presidential primary.

The ballot would feature all qualified candidates, regardless of party affiliation, and would allow voters who either can't vote in a party's primary or don't want to vote in a party primary the ability to cast a vote for the candidate of their choice without having to change their voter registration by the May 23 registration deadline. The parties could then choose to consider the results of the “public ballot” or not when they select their nominees at their state conventions.

“While today’s committee decision was disappointing, I firmly believe that this is the direction California voters want our primaries to go in,” said Olsen. “Every voter should be able to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice – no matter their party preference.”

Assemblymembers Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) and Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) were the two votes in favor of the resolution, despite a “no” recommendation from Committee Chair Shirley Weber (D-San Diego). Those who followed the Democratic chair’s “no” recommendation were Vice Chair Matthew Harper (R-Costa Mesa), and Richard S. Gordon (D-Los Altos). Committeeman Adrin Nazarian (D-Van Nuys) abstained.

The resolution's authors and supporters, including the over 18,000+ voters who have signed a petition in favor of it, argue that offering voters a public option is a practical way to protect the parties' right to decide the nomination process of their candidates, while also respecting the right of all voters, regardless of their party affiliation or lack thereof, to have an equal say in taxpayer-funded elections.

“Though I am a proud Republican, I have and will continue to protect the rights of my entire constituency - regardless of their partisan affiliation or nonaffiliation. All Californians should have a voice in the political process and ACR 145 would have allowed that,” said State Senator Cannella

Committee Chair Weber raised her concern that voters would be confused if they cast a vote that didn't count toward the delegate selection process, since the parties would not be obligated to consider the results of the public ballot. In her closing comments, Weber expressed her position that it was better that voters not have an option to express themselves at all than to risk a situation where voters thought they were participating in the party nomination process. She did not comment on the non-binding nature of the party primaries on the nomination process itself.

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Party Bosses: We Choose the Candidate WE WantRNC and DNC party bosses are openly admitting that our votes don’t matter… In order to keep their power over voters, they’ll do whatever it takes to stop party outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. If they don't count our votes, we shouldn't pay for their primaries. Sign the Petition: http://bit.ly/Count-Our-VotesPosted by Independent Voter on Friday, March 25, 2016

Vice Chair Harper echoed these concerns and added that it is likely that voters would believe their vote wasn't going to be counted. However, despite these concerns, Harper did second the motion for a vote on the resolution "as a courtesy," ensuring that a vote would have to be taken. While Harper did vote against the resolution, IVP expressed appreciation for his willingness to bring to the table a vote that he himself was not then willing to support.

During her testimony, Assemblymember Olsen pointed out that many California voters are unaware of the choices they have in presidential elections, and independent voters in what is supposed to be an open primary state, in particular, are likely to be confused if not given the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice. She added that when she served as minority leader of the California Assembly she wasn’t fully aware that voters had such limited choices in presidential primaries.

In 2016, independent voters are only allowed to vote in the Democratic, Libertarian, and American Independent presidential primaries. They are barred from all other presidential contests, and according to Inyo County Registrar Kammi Foote, many voters may never be aware of their options until they receive a nonpartisan ballot and discover that the presidential race is not even on it.

"Some counties instruct their poll workers that if someone is a No Party Preference voter, you give them a No Party Preference ballot. If ask you at that point why there are no candidates for president then their choices are given to them. Some counties post that information at the polling place, and some counties instruct poll workers to offer the choices up front," Foote said in an on-the-record conversation.

There are likely many independent voters who want to vote for John Kasich, or Donald Trump, or Ted Cruz, or a Peace and Freedom Party candidate who will be shocked to find out that after taking time out of their day, waiting hours in line, and anticipating being able to vote for their preferred candidate, they won't be able to because they didn't know they had to change their voter registration to the appropriate party by May 23.

A voter registered with the American Independent Party or the Libertarian Party may not know until they get to the polls that they are not allowed to cross parties to vote for a major party candidate if they want to, and even if people changed their voter registration by the deadline there is still something else that is exacerbating voter confusion not only in California, but nationwide: primary and caucus voters don't actually choose party nominees, the delegates at the national convention do.

A representative of the secretary of state's office present at the hearing stated that Secretary Padilla was not sure that his office had the authority to comply with the resolution, though IVP maintains that as the state’s chief elections administrator, the California Constitution not only gives him the authority to implement regulations that ensure the fair administration of elections, but requires open presidential primaries, which the resolution endorses.

"We should not lose sight of the fact that California leads the nation in voter rights... This resolution is not asking for anything new. It is asking to follow the law that already exists," said IVP attorney Chad Peace.

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Contact Your Legislator About This Resolution

Authors and Co-Authors

Asm. Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) - (916) 319-2012

Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) - (916) 651-4012

Asm. Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) - (916) 319-2069

 

Votes Opposed to ACR 145

Asm. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) - (916) 319-2079

Asm. Matthew Harper (R-Costa Mesa) - (916) 319-2074 

Asm. Richard S. Gordon (D-Los Altos) - (916) 319-2024

 

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Votes in Favor of ACR 145

Asm. Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) - (916) 319-2022

Asm. Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) - (916) 319-2028

 

Or Find Your State Representative Here.

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