News Column

'Top Two' System Proposed for Presidential Primaries

August 8, 2013
election day

A ballot measure proposed by former California legislator Steve Peace would attempt to eliminate partisan primaries during the state's presidential elections by cutting off public funding.

Peace helped draft the state's Proposition 14 of 2010, which opened primary elections for partisan statewide offices, the Legislature, the Board of Equalization and Congress to all voters regardless of party affiliation.

He hopes his latest proposal would extend the "top-two" primary to the presidential election.

Peace and Jeff Marston, both of the Independent Voter Project, submitted the proposal in June to "prohibit the expenditure of public funds for the private activities of political parties."

The proposed initiative, which is pending at the state attorney general's office, would discontinue the use of public funding to hold party elections, such as county central committee and presidential primary elections.

By cutting off the public funding, Peace hopes political parties would open their primaries to all voters, not just members of their own party. The secretary of state and elections officials currently use public funds to certify candidates, draw up ballots, run polling places and tally votes.

Peace said in a recent interview that parties would not be legally required to open their primaries to voters -- they would just have to fund a closed primary independently.

"If you, the Republican Party, want to say independents can't participate, fine, but you're going to have to pay for the costs to tally that vote," he said.

Tenoch Flores, the communications director for the California Democratic Party, pointed out that Democrats already open their presidential primary to decline-to-state voters.

"Since 2004, Democrats in California have opened our presidential primary to voters with no party preference," Flores said in an email. "We believe our candidates are well-suited to attract both Democratic and NPP votes, especially at a time when Republican voter registration continues to free fall in California."

California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte declined to comment.

Dan Howle, board member at the Independent Voter Project and director of government affairs at Lilly USA, called the initiative "a cleanup" of what the organization could not get done in Proposition 14.

He also said it reflects the growing number of decline-to-state voters.

In California, 20.9 percent of voters are registered with no party preference, according to the secretary of state. Howle said the rising trend of voters registering without party affiliation is even more evident in states like New Jersey, where unaffiliated voters total 47.7 percent of the electorate.

"People don't want to be labeled anymore," Howle said.

Peace said a second initiative he has filed separate from the Independent Voter Project stems from a similar point of view. His firm belief that citizens want to guard their private personal information from corporations and government entities led him to file a proposal to add a definition of the right of privacy to the California Constitution.

The measure, which would take effect in 2016 if passed, uses broad language to "protect the fundamental right of every person to pursue and obtain privacy."

Peace wouldn't offer specifics on how he would gather the 807,615 signatures needed to qualify either initiative, saying only that there are "multiple ways to get something on the ballot."

"We're in a changing world as far as the whole process of qualification occurs and there are many ways to garner signatures on an issue like this in a very large community," Peace said. "The traditional Sacramento view of how these things get qualified isn't necessarily the only way to do it."


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Source: Copyright Sacramento Bee (CA) 2013

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