Proposition 14 will appear on the June 2010 ballot and offers California the chance to adopt an open primary election system instead of the modified closed primary that currently exists. Under the present system, voters in California may only select their own party’s candidates and cannot cross over to other parties’ primaries. Unaffiliated voters are allowed to vote in any of the primaries. An open primary would change the current system in two key ways–voters could cast their ballot for any candidate, regardless of party, and the primary’s top two candidates, regardless of party, would advance to the runoff election in November. This would only apply to state and congressional elections. The Editorial Board supports Proposition 14, and believes that it will help strengthen the power of the average voter and foster a more open dialogue between the Republican and Democratic parties.
The “opening” of the system by allowing voters to cast their ballot independent of party affiliation is a crucial change. In a political climate that is increasingly polarized by party, opening up the vote would allow voters to see the candidates on a spectrum and break down the “us vs. them” mentality that pervades the current closed system. Candidates must be evaluated on more than just their party identification in an open system, promoting greater voter involvement. The open system also empowers voters to make more of a choice than simply picking their party’s best candidate, allowing for the voter to better evaluate the race overall.
The runoff election in November opens up interesting possibilities, namely having two candidates of the same party on the same ticket. While this may lead to accusations of bias, it would actually strengthen the democratic process by allowing the two most supported candidates to face one another, rather than just the top candidates from each party. Once again, the voter is empowered to select those who will appear on the ballot and the initiative breaks down party lines in favor of candidate qualifications.
Many may argue that parties will manipulate the vote in an open system and it will be too confusing for voters. While these concerns may be valid, the small risk these changes pose does not outweigh the benefit of empowering the voters of California. An open primary system will open dialogue across party lines and, hopefully, lead to candidates being elected based on qualifications rather than just party affiliations. Proposition 14, if passed, would put California alongside fourteen other states with open primaries, and perhaps even help reform the election system in the state.