There were at least two reasons to vote for Proposition 14—the constitutional amendment that promised to save Californians from themselves by making primary elections non-partisan.
First, given the state’s fiscal fiasco, it’s hard to think that voters could do worse under an open primary system than they’ve done under the current set-up. Second, the fact that Nancy Pelosi was against the proposition pretty much guaranteed that the idea had merit.
Despite the fact that a broken clock is right twice a day, it’s unlikely that Speaker Pelosi wouldn’t know where her partisan interests lay when it came to this electoral reform. Pelosi was joined in opposition by the California Teachers Association and other public employees unions that currently own Sacramento.
Now that Prop. 14 has been approved by a 54-46 per cent margin, it will be a while before Californians can judge whether the political means are (as Gandhi suggested) “the ends in the making.”
Unfortunately, anyone who peruses a pre-election report released by the Center for Governmental Studies will probably conclude that the primary rearrangement act is unlikely to significantly change the ideological complexion of our legislators in Sacramento.
The study shows that, based on registration, about one-third of all legislative districts are “supermajority” districts where one party has 25% more registered voters than the other. Not surprisingly, all of those supermajority districts are Democratic—most in the Bay area or Los Angeles county. (No wonder Pelosi and her union buddies weren’t wild about this proposition.)
But before anyone starts popping champagne corks, the study also shows that in 8 of the 19 state Senate and Assembly elections since 2006 where voters in the general election would have chosen between two candidates of the same party, the more moderate of the two primary candidates was already the party nominee—and in only 4 of the 19 races was the vote close enough that participation by independents or crossovers would likely have made a difference.
Given the fact that none of the San Diego and Riverside county districts are supermajority Republican, it seems the only local ramification of Prop. 14 will be to force the 6 to 9 per cent of Libertarian voters in Assembly Districts 74, 75, and 77 to cast their November ballots for a Democrat or a Republican—or to abstain from voting.
Perhaps over time open primaries might have a salutary effect, but they’ve not yet worked any magic in Washington state—nor in Louisiana where something like an open primary law was instituted in 1975 precisely to protect Democrat incumbents.
California’s next deus ex machina will be 2012’s non-partisan redistricting.