Elections will be different in California thanks to passage of Proposition 14 last year, but in the first elections conducted under the new law the results were no different at all.
Proposition 14 was a citizen initiative that eliminated the practice of party primaries followed by one nominee from each party competing in a general election. Now all candidates compete in one overall election and if one of them gets more than 50 percent of the vote, that candidate is elected. Otherwise, a run-off is held between the two candidates who got the most votes, even if both are from the same party.
In the two elections held last week, one included two candidates, a Democrat and a Republican, and the other featured eight candidates but one, one of two Democrats running, took the spot on the first ballot. Under the circumstances it is hard to argue that it would have been any different under the old system.
Nevertheless, open primaries of this sort are gaining support across the country as a method for allowing the voices of unaffiliated voters to be heard, and perhaps beating back the excesses of hyper-partisanship that have turned election season into ugly battlegrounds that most voters pray will end as soon as possible.
However, not all “open primary” approaches are equal. In some instances, there is the winner-take-all approach where a vote tally exceeding 50 percent settles the matter immediately. In others, no matter what percentages the top two voters get, a run-off is mandated between them. In the 28th Senate District race in California, that would have meant that Ted Lieu, the winner, who received 57.1 percent of the vote, would have still had to face Bob Valentine, one of four Republicans running, in a run-off, even though Valentine only received 25.1 percent of the vote.
Although several states use the open primary structure, each is set up in its own unique way, just as many municipalities have for years followed the same practice, each with their own approach.
The goal of activists in many states is to change their laws to the open primary structure. It is generally believed that restricting primary voting to party members allows the more extreme elements in each party to nominate candidates who are not well received by the large body of voters in the middle, but who are then nevertheless trapped into voting for one extreme or the other, or not voting at all.
Interestingly, the push for open primaries is also frequently resisted by third parties, who would seem to benefit from the non-partisan nature of open primaries. It may be that, in some cases at least, they feel that their candidates draw more votes from those who opt not to choose between the two extremes in the major parties, and that those votes will be lost if more moderate candidates are available.