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Why Third Parties Should Join Independent Voters in Voting Yes on Prop 62 Voter Choice Open Primary

Prop 62 has provoked a mighty controversy in the Democratic and Republican Parties – where reformers supporting Prop 62 have clashed with party bosses who want to maintain the old order. And, it has also provoked a controversy within the independent movement, where reform independents are backing Prop 62 while the third party establishment is aggressively opposing it . . .
This November, California voters have an opportunity to vote “Yes? on Proposition 62, the Voter Choice Open Primary Initiative. If Prop 62 passes, the current system of closed primary elections will be replaced with nonpartisan open elections in which all voters, regardless of party, will be able to vote at every stage of the process.

Prop 62 has provoked a mighty controversy in the Democratic and Republican Parties – where reformers supporting Prop 62 have clashed with party bosses who want to maintain the old order. And, it has also provoked a controversy within the independent movement, where reform independents are backing Prop 62 while the third party establishment is aggressively opposing it.

Approximately 3 million “decline to state? voters, 20% of the electorate in California, are disenfranchised by the current party-controlled primaries. Under the closed primary system, independent voters are treated as second class citizens and denied the right to participate in first round voting – usually the decisive round. Since the Democratic and Republican legislature carved districts to be automatically Democrat or Republican, partisan primaries determine the outcome in all but a handful of races. Passing Prop 62 would bust up this “gentlemen’s agreement? and open the door to competition.

Prop 62 also opens the door to independent voters having significantly greater influence. How? Because in an open primary system, all candidates will need to build alliances with independent voters to maximize their chances of making it to the general election. That change will increase the urgency of embracing independent voters’ agenda for structural political reform.

Yet, in spite of this clear opportunity for empowering independent voters, the third party establishment – leaders of the Greens, the Libertarians, the Peace and Freedom Party -- vocally oppose Prop 62. For them, Prop 62 will mean the end of a guaranteed spot on the ballot, except for presidential elections which will remain on the “party-line? system. The third parties argue that such a loss “disempowers? independents, but what they really mean is that Prop 62 will change the way parties -- minor and major -- practice politics.

Until the last 10 years, the prevailing philosophy in third party, or independent politics, has been to focus on building alternative parties which are modeled on the majors and which espouse a particular ideology. Under this traditional model “independent? third parties could win a nominal voice in the process, i.e. a spot on the ballot, but almost never impacted either on outcome or the public agenda. The “market? for their ideological views and fringe status rarely got above 5%. At the same time, though, the numbers of independent voters – those who do not want to align with any party and who reject the culture of partisanship – has been growing. The third parties have not been in a position to represent that growing, but disenfranchised, bloc because they are pro-party, just as the Republicans and Democrats are.

Although 35% of all Americans now identify as independents (CNN/USA Today), minor party presidential candidates received only 3% of the vote in 2000. A new anti-partisan and non-ideological approach to organizing and representing these voters without building a party has become highly effective because it responds to independents’ desire to break out of the partisan box.

The vast majority of independent voters are looking for ways to participate in the electoral process without having to join a party or vote a party line. In fact, independents don’t trust parties and party insiders to make their decisions for them. They want to be free to vote for the best candidate, regardless of party. They want to be free to partner in fluid coalitions that can pick apart special interest control of government and policymaking. While independents span the entire left-center-right ideological spectrum, the vast majority agrees that our political system is broken and the political culture is a disaster. That’s why as many as 80% of independents support Proposition 62, even while the state’s third parties are loudly opposing it.

Rich Winger, a ballot access expert and Libertarian Party member, recently argued in the San Francisco Bay Guardian “our California legislature is very diverse.... but that very diversity guarantees that every significant group in California has a spokesperson in the legislature.? Winger, now a leading spokesperson for the “No on 62? Committee, apparently doesn’t regard the state’s millions of independent voters (who certainly have no spokespersons in the legislature) as a significant group.

The open primary is hardly a panacea for our ailing electoral process. However, the proposal establishes conditions in which new things can happen and new voices can emerge. It levels the playing field and acknowledges the independent voter as a growing political force. Independents would have a significant – if not decisive – role in the first round of voting, thus becoming a critical constituency. As the non-partisan, open primary begins to weaken the control now exerted by the party machines, reformers within the major parties will have a need (as well as an opportunity) to form new kinds of beneficial alliances in which independents play an increasingly influential role.

California’s minor parties have a chance to help refresh our democracy by backing an electoral reform measure with the potential to shake up the status quo. Instead they have lined up with the Democrat and Republican Party machines in what appears to be a cynical attempt to ensure their own self-perpetuation.

As a step toward a more democratic and inclusive process, however, the Committee for an Independent Voice and the majority of California’s independent voters are joining with reformers within the Democrat and Republican parties in a new coalition to pass Proposition 62. The minor parties would burnish their credentials as champions of outsider voices by supporting, not preventing, the emergence of a new political design.


Jim Mangia is the Co-Chair and Harriet Hoffman is the Statewide Coordinator for the Committee for an Independent Voice, an association of California independents that advocates on behalf of independent voters and their interests. For more information go to

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Re: Why Third Parties Should Join Independent Voters in Voting Yes on Prop 62 Voter Choice Open Primary


This open primary initiative would eliminate ballot access for third parties.

Re: Why Third Parties Should Join Independent Voters in Voting Yes on Prop 62 Voter Choice Open Primary

Isn't the real problem gerrymandering? How is changing the election system going to solve that? But won't the new system introduce problems of its own? Didn't SF abandon this kind of system in favor of IRV? Why should the entire state be saddled with an unsatisfactory, interim mechanism? Shouldn't we wait until IRV has proven itself in SF and go directly there? What about third-parties and independents who must now work hard for ballot access and media attention? Under the current rules, aren't they at least compensated for their extra burden by guaranteed access to the general election ballot? Is it right to change the rules to make it even harder for them to compete?

If gerrymandering is really the problem, then shouldn't we reject this measure and wait for something that actually addresses gerrymandering?

You've almost convinced me

I was firmly for Proposition 60 (status quo) and against Proposition 62 when I first read through the voter information guide.

Proposition 62 is attractive, though, because it ignores party affiliations and just puts just the top two vote-getters on the final ballot. It's more of a municipal election model, where party affiliation doesn't matter. In fact, it reminds me of the old runoff arrangement in San Francisco. There, if no supervisor won a clear majority, the top two vote-getters would face each other in a second election.

In truth I am not a big fan of political parties or of primary elections. The old "closed" primary was particularly bad, because nonpartisan voters didn't get to participate at all. (In British parliamentary countries, it's even worse, because the primary "election" process is internal to each party, and only a select group of party insiders participate in the choice of the party's candidate.)

I am a non-partisan ("decline to state" or DTS) voter. In a primary election, I usually request a Republican ballot. I vote for Republicans from the religious right, in hopes of keeping moderate, electable Republicans off the general election ballot.

In a general election I don't vote automatically for Democrats. I do vote automatically for them when the other electable candidates are worse. I could definitely see myself voting for the odd true Republican (note: there are not many Republicans these days who favor true conservative ideas, such as individual freedom*), if the person were smart and charismatic and if her presence in government would provide a counterbalance. I think Santa Cruz City Council and the State Assembly are good examples of governing bodies that need more balance. In particular, they need more people who understand economics; aren't afraid of saying "no"; like to put a little money aside instead of spending it all on raises, tax breaks, and new programs; and want to get the bureaucratic parts of government out of our lives, while retaining the useful parts.

I would love to be able to vote for more independent candidates. I don't do it unless they are exceptional people (e.g. Robert Norse, who I am definitely writing-in for City Council) and/or are generally recognized as electable.

I can't put my finger on it, but I do have a lingering distrust for the small parties, including the Green, Peace and Freedom, Libertarian, and American Independent Parties. There seems to be very little uniformity within these parties, and I sometimes see, in a voter guide argument, something really unpalatable from a particular candidate. I remember seeing an anti-gay remark from a "small party" candidate (either Green or Libertarian) in San Francisco, for example. This showed me that the "small parties" weren't so "alternative" after all.

I suppose I'm now undecided on 60 versus 62, but leaning toward 62.

* I'm making a distinction that may not be clear. Here's an example. A Republican who is a true conservative will vote against the federal marriage amendment, on the grounds that individuals should be free to form whatever relationships they like. A naive Republican will vote to ban same-sex marriage, perhaps because he is affiliated with the religious right. The first type of Republican can be very useful to have around, especially when people propose legislation like the Patriot Act, that takes away individual freedoms. The second type of Republican is bad to have around.


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