By Thomas G. Del Beccaro
Special to Calbuzz
Proposition 14 demonstrates the dangers of good intentions.
Although proponents claim it will increase voter participation and bring a new class of politicians to Sacramento, in the two states where Prop. 14’s Top Two format has been tried, incumbency rates have gone up, voter participation has gone down and third party candidates have disappeared.
Under Prop. 14, there is a large open primary in June and then only the top two finishers square off in the fall. There are no write-ins and often just two Democrats or two Republicans on the ballot in the fall. There are two key problems with the system:
Higher Incumbency Rates. Prop 14’s Top Two system exists in Louisiana and Washington State. In 35 years in Louisiana, no incumbent lost in the primary until two faced off because of redistricting. Washington saw only one lose out of 139 races – a higher rate of incumbency than in California. Plain and simple, Prop. 14 results in more incumbents winning – not a new class of legislators as the proponents claim.
Prop. 14 favors incumbents because the nature of the mass open primary results in a very expensive primary (candidates have to reach the entire voter spectrum) and then a general election. Also, candidates cannot put an (R) or a (D) by their name on the ballot. Combined, such rules favor the rich and famous – i.e. very often incumbents.
Lower Voter Participation. Prop. 14 proponents claim it will lead to higher voter participation rates. That too is fantasy, not fact: Top Two systems lower voter participation. In Washington, voter participation dropped from 45+% in 2004 (pre-Top Two) to 42+% in 2008 (post Top Two). What is remarkable about that drop is that 2008 was the Obama election year when Democrat participation was boosted. Why did it drop? Because Top Two systems reduce voter choice.
In California, voter choice and participation will drop because (1) studies show that up to 30% of the races will feature two Democrats in the fall election or just two Republicans, and (2) 3rd party participation will plummet — effectively disenfranchising 4.5% of California voters. So, in the SF/Bay Area, there will be no Republicans on the ballot for Assembly or Senate – and no Democrats in the Central Valley. Without a real choice, history shows voters stay home.
In sum, Prop. 14 has worse than failed in Washington and Louisiana. Why adopt a system we know doesn’t work? Vote No on 14.
Thomas G. Del Beccaro is vice chair of the California Republican Party, author of The New Conservative Paradigm and publisher of www.politicalvanguard.com