On Wednesday, representatives from the Independent Voter Project went to Sacramento to voice their opposition to Assembly Bill 837. The bill, brought by Assemblymember Evan Low, is geared toward educating no party preference voters on how to participate in the state’s semi-closed primary elections.
While the Independent Voter Project is strongly in favor of increasing voter education, their opposition to the bill stems from the fact that it maintains a semi-closed primary election, despite the California Constitution calling for an “open presidential primary.”
Since 2001, California has held what the secretary of state’s website calls a “modified closed primary” in which voters who have not registered with a party (“no party preference” or “NPP” voters) can participate only in the primaries of parties that have decided to allow non-members to participate.
The process NPP voters have to undergo to participate in the modified closed primary is cumbersome and confusing. But even more concerning than its confusing nature is that holding a modified closed primary directly contradicts Article II, section 5 of the state constitution, which calls for an open presidential primary. An open primary is one in which all voters are allowed to vote for the candidate of their choice, regardless of party affiliation.
Last year the Independent Voter Project worked with members of the California legislature to draft a resolution that urged the secretary of state to provide a nonpartisan ballot option for the presidential primaries. On this ballot, NPP voters would be able to vote for the candidate of their choice, regardless of that candidate’s party affiliation.
The resolution (ACR 145) did not require political parties to take the results of the nonpartisan ballot into consideration, thereby maintaining both the parties’ right to not associate with non-members and voters’ fundamental right to participate at all meaningful stages of an election.
The resolution died in committee, but the Independent Voter Project continues to press the legislature and secretary of state to bring California’s elections in line with the state constitution’s requirements, and their testimony this week in opposition to AB 837 in the Committee on Elections and Redistricting was the most recent of those efforts.
During testimony, IVP Board of Directors Chairman Dan Howle reminded members of the Committee on Elections and Redistricting about the state’s constitutional requirements and noted that the educational measures contained in this bill do not go far enough to remedy the confusion that results from our modified closed primary.
After Mr. Howle finished, former State Senator Steve Peace began his testimony by recognizing that the freedom of association provided for by the US Constitution prevents parties from having to associate with non-members, and then reiterated that the nonpartisan ballot described in ACR 145 would satisfy both the US and California state constitutional requirements, while also eliminating voter confusion. He also pointed out that making elections voter-centric and not party-centric would ultimately benefit both major parties.