A New & Better Primary Election System


Possibly by accident, California is leading the way to a form of political upheaval long desired by thinking and informed Americans. The mounting evidence that our two-party system has failed the democratic process and the citizens of this nation, has led the progressive, rational portion of American voters to demand massive changes. The form that those changes should take was a long argued topic but the trends in California may focus the energies and attentions to this core issue.

: In 1996, California voters enacted Proposition 198 which created a new open primary system in which voters from every registered party are allowed to vote for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation. Where before, only Democrats could vote for Democratic candidates and Republicans for Republican candidates, everyone now has a say in every election's candidates. Historically, in California those not registered as belonging to either of the two major parties were never given an opportunity to vote for any candidates unless their particular party was offering a candidate and then could only vote on that very restricted slate. Proposition 198 thus had the further advantage of allowing those registered as third party or non-affiliated voters to become a part of the process in the primary elections as well as the November elections.

This new and far superior method of conducting elections has, of course, incited and infuriated both the Democratic and Republican Parties. The Republican Party, true to the conservative nature of their platforms, have stated that they will refuse to recognize any electoral representatives from California as the elections are no longer purely partisan. The Democratic Party has not, as yet, addressed this issue but polls suggest that they had best recognize their electoral representatives if they want to continue to wrest control of the highest state offices from the Republicans.

The argument that, for instance, Democrats will vote for the least viable Republican candidate in order to ease the way for the Democrat's candidate to win is, at best, silly and, at worst, insane. Everyone would soon recognize that either party could control the other in this manner with the end result being that both parties would be forced to run and finance the worst possible candidates (a system that would be an infinitesimal shift from the candidates now offered considering that the Republicans already have tried to offer Danny Quayle and Pat Buchanan and the Democrats can only seem to find Gore and Bradley as representatives of their once progressive platform). What the new primary system will actually create is the option for a Democrat to vote for the Republican candidate should that candidate best represent the Democrat's political views. It will also serve as a fairly reliable weathervane as to the legitimate desires of the state's voters in that any large cross-over voting for either party's candidate will serve notice as to the voter's concerns and demands.

Imagine what a truly magnificent display of the Democratic process it would be should the Presidential primary and national elections be open to all voters in all states. The result would probably closely follow the pattern becoming evident in California's party registrations. Between 1980 and 1996, voters who registered and refused to affiliate themselves with any party, the true Independents, grew only slightly from 8.3% of the electorate to 10.5%. Between 1996 and the latest accounting in 1999, that percentage had risen to a very respectful and powerful 13.5%.

Those registered as third party voters also has increased ever so slightly by 1% in the last year. Only the Reform Party and the Natural Law Party suffered defections and those were only in the area of three tenths of a percent. Therefore, the obvious conclusion is that the vast majority of those switching and refusing to affiliate are coming directly from the major parties. In fact, the Democrats have seen a decrease of 1.4% in registered voters and the Republicans are seeing a 1.8% fall, as well. The difference in numbers of registered voters also shows that many Californians are finally taking the time to actually register, now that they no longer have to register in a party with whom they fundamentally disagree, simply in order to vote in the primary. Also, since campaign funds from the national headquarters of the two major parties depends greatly on the number of voters in that party, these defections will remove at least a small proportion of the obscene influx of bribes offered every election.

While one would expect a truly liberal area such as San Francisco to be home to the highest percentage of non-affiliated voters in the state (with 22%), even historical strongholds of Republican voters such as Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange County have shown remarkable growth in non-affiliated registrations (13%, 14% and 14% respectively).

For California, that 13.5% registering and declining to affiliate numbers over 2 million voters. Since registering as being affiliated with either of the two major parties takes little thought or effort and entails no need to become or even to remain informed, the mere act of re-registering and declining to affiliate is the action of a very concerned and involved voter. As their ranks swell, as I believe is inevitable once the nation acknowledges their growth and importance, candidates will be forced to stop being so strictly and thoughtlessly partisan in their platforms and the parties will have no choice but to find the middle ground that the American voters have been demanding ever since they realized their horrible and misguided choices after the 1994 elections. No longer will narrow-minded and mean spirited stances be accepted, meaning that both parties, but the Republicans in particular, will have to search far more exhaustingly for candidates not burdened with the single-mindedness that has become the hallmark of political offerings these past twenty years.

While I agree that the idea and the reality of open primaries is not the absolute and final antidote to all of this nation's many political woes, it is, indeed, a mighty step in the right direction. We, the American people and California's voters, must now follow up on the promise that Proposition 198 has offered us and we must return to the polls in mass in order to take full advantage of this slight opening of a window of opportunity. We must show every party that the only way to achieve success at this point in America's history is to offer sensible, thoughtful solutions and to cease the angry, negative and useless partisan rhetoric that has passed for debate for far too long.(1)

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Copyright 12/1/99