Democracy in California: Promoting Principle Over Power
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
How should we evaluate the overwhelming victory of Proposition 14 in California yesterday, which eliminates party primary elections and opens elections to the two top vote getters of first stage elections, regardless of party or, even more importantly, without any party affiliation?
Variations of this access-opening voting system have been tried over the years in other states, with mixed results. Republicans were happy when in Ohio it reportedly worked to exclude third parties. Conservatives in California fear that the general election would be a run-off between two Democrats rather than between one Democrat and one Republican. Liberals in California fear that the average voter is denied the vote when the de facto closed party system results only in a choice between the richest candidate in each party during the new era when votes are bought with money.
As a dissenting opinion a decade ago in California Democratic Party vs Jones, the conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antony Scalia called this system a “nonpartisan blanket primary”. He said that the “top two” system is a general election with a runoff. The only difference between the first round of the “top two” and other general elections is that there has not been a nominating event to winnow the field of candidates. This is why conservatives call this a “jungle ballot”. Louisiana’s system is a “top two” when there’s a runoff, but it’s a “top one” when one candidate gets 50%-plus.
Libertarians oddly want to challenge Prop 14 legally as un-constitutional, because the U.S. Constitution says that states do have the right to determine their own election system, but that only the legislatures in each state have this right. Republicans warn that after the first “top-two” open election, they will fight in the California legislature for tougher ballot access to declutter it. A member of the “Natural Born Citizen Party” warns that “after Obama is finally exposed as not being even a U.S. citizen let alone not a natural born citizen”, and if legal recourse fails, street battles will erupt throughout Los Angeles. The arch-conservative Orange County in Greater Los Angeles is one of only two counties in the state where Prop 14 failed.
All of the dissenters to the newly elected open ballot in California, including one would think even Justice Scalia, seem to be unaware of the original intent of America’s founders. All the founders of America warned against the development of political parties, because their primary goal would to grab or consolidate power, not to promote principle. The political party system, especially the present de facto two party system, where third parties face high hurdles even to get on the ballot, is designed precisely to concentrate power. Although Alexander Hamilton, who invented the power-concentrating Federalist Party, might rejoice at any means to keep the mob out of politics, most of America’s other Founders would whoop and holler to celebrate this victory in California for a more direct democracy independent of the closed Two Party system.
Of course, this new system of electing government could backfire if radicals do form a mob and overcome the system of checks and balances instituted by America’s founders. All systems of government are risky, because the first principle of sovereign government is the right to a monopoly of coercion, but the risks of tyranny by Republicans and Democrats working together, despite appearances to the contrary, has come to pose the greatest threat we have ever known.