Did the State GOP Create a Workaround to the New Open Primary Election System?

In June 2010, voters passed Proposition 14, which will fundamentally change the way we hold elections in California. Instead of having party primaries, in which the nominee of each party proceeds to the general election, we will have open primaries and top-two general elections. Under it, any voter, regardless of party affiliation, can vote for any candidate in the primary election. Then in the general election only the top-two voter-getters, regardless of the party affiliation of those candidates, proceed to the general election. The purpose of Prop 14 is to create a legislature comprised of more moderate, consensus-building officials who won election by appealing to broad swath of the electorate.

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It is easy to see why the political parties were against the measure. It weakens their power and means that a candidate competing in the general election is not necessarily the choice of the party, but rather was preferred by many of the voters in the primary.

This weekend the California Republican Party (CRP) decided to try and take back some of the influence likely lost under Prop 14. On Saturday night, the party's rule committee approved a plan under which the party will mail ballots to all registered Republicans in California and ask them to indicate their preferred candidates. The CRP convention's general session vote then accepted that endorsement plan. In essence, the CRP has created a mail-in party nominating convention, which will lead to an official Republican Party candidate. It just may be that the "nominee" does not actually make it to the general election.

There is nothing illegal or otherwise impermissible about this plan. The CRP is simply finding a way to alert their members of the party's choice in the election. The question is whether this will discourage more moderate candidates, who have not won favor with the party's base, from running for office. That would work to undermine the primary purpose behind Prop 14.

Will this help the CRP's voter registration problem? Republicans now number about 30% of the registered voters in the state. That number has long been on the decline. Further, while the CRP's base is increasingly getting older and whiter, Latinos and Asians are the fastest growing slice of the state's population.

The endorsement plan will go into effect in 2014. Right now voters should ask themselves a few questions. Is it helpful to know which candidates a majority of the party prefers? Should the Democrats follow suit?

The next test of Prop 14 will come on July 12, when an election is held to fill Representative Jane Harman's seat.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday at noon. She is an Adjunct Professor at Loyola Law School and the Director of Political Reform at a non-profit, non-partisan think tank.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user Steve Rhodes. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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Mail in votes will favor the more ardent members of the CAGOP. That means it will slide into the hands of the Tea Party. This is what righties like Nehring and Rohrbacher want. They’ll make a lot of noise around election time, but they won’t win many offices. The moderate Repubs will look for other candidates to vote for. The CA Dems already have about 40% of the voters, and independents over 20%. The independents will probably grow. One aim of Prop 14 is to break up the two-party system. As I write at
http://bit.ly/fdsh6R - its working!

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.


The Prop. 14 system has already been tried for 35 years in Louisiana, and for two statewide elections now in Washington state. It doesn't shake things up and it doesn't elect more moderate. Mostly it makes it very easy for incumbents to get re-elected. An incumbent always has so much name recognition, he or she always is one of the top two vote-getters in the first round. Louisiana used it for Congress 1978 thru 2006, and in all those 30 years, only one incumbent from either house of Congress was ever defeated for re-election (not counting 1992 when incumbents had to run against each other due to redistricting). But when Louisiana switched to a normal system in 2008, two incumbents were defeated for re-election; also one more was defeated in 2010. Also, in Washington state, where it was used in 2008 and 2010, no incumbent member of either house of Congress was defeated.


Louisiana and California are two very dif political systems. What happened there is NO prediction of what will happen here. LA is more traditional, and elite-driven. CA is more open to change; indeed, often leads the nation in change. As I write at
http://bit.ly/fdsh6R Prop 14 is already working as intended – the CA GOP is panicking!