Article: defeat of prop 62 and Green electoral reform alternatives
By Hank Chapot
After November 2nd, electoral reformers in California have one reason to cheer; third parties will continue to have a place on the ballot with the defeat of proposition 62. This bipartisan plan went down to defeat, 46 to 54 percent, but may have fallen to the “I always vote no on anything I don’t understand” group of voters over those who informed themselves about the initiative. In Washington State, they weren’t so lucky and now face a top-two style primary.
The initiative was placed on the ballot by a paid signature gathering campaign funded by wealthy business interests and would have amended the state constitution. Presented to the public as an “Open Primary” by its authors and signature gatherers, it would have allowed voters to choose any candidate regardless of party in the primary, but 62 was more correctly called a “top-two” or Louisiana primary because it would eliminate from the November general election all but the top two-vote getters, regardless of party. There would have been no other route to the November ballot besides coming in first or second in the March primary.
One lesson for reformers from proposition 62 is that electoral reform can go either way. While I believe Ralph Nader’s lawsuits against restrictive ballot access laws could be one of his greatest reform efforts, they could result in a wave of legislation tightening ballot access against independents and third party candidates.
Greens have been remarkably successful in a very short time promoting Instant runoff voting, trading the possibility of “spoiling” for the chance of becoming competitive. IRV is an excellent teaching tool that gets voters used to choosing more than one candidate, an important step down the road toward Proportional Representation.
Our next steps will be to expand our efforts in electoral reform with most of the work taking place on a state by state basis. The California Green party has sued the Secretary of State in the past seeking prompt access to voter roles and when we defended NOTA. House candidate Terry Baum in San Francisco will soon argue against unfair barriers to participation before the Supreme Court. (Baum ran a strong write-in campaign to challenge Nancy Pelosi and sued the San Francisco Registrar for his his overly restrictive interpretation of statutes).
Arguing the associational rights of political parties has helped keep the state from dictating party procedures, and defending the rights of voters (a protected class) to vote for the candidate of their choice, to have their beliefs represented and their votes counted in the electoral process are other legal avenues for defending small parties. The Supreme Court used the 14th amendment in Bush V. Gore but denied they were setting a precedent. However, lawyers can cite that decision if third parties and their voters try to prove discrimination by restrictive electoral laws. Other legal arguments emerge from the implied right to be heard. Political speech is given the highest level of first amendment protection, and the right of candidates and ideas to be heard may have merit in ballot access challenges. The 1976 Supreme Court decision Buckley v. Vallejo that gave us the “money equals speech” concept, might be challenged on these grounds; freedom of speech does not mean you can drown out your opponent. This could be a positive argument for public financing and spending limits.
Choosing a party label when registering to vote has become a concern to Greens after problems of state vote allotments at the 2004 nominating convention. California parties are lucky that voters may choose party identification which helps us find our members because the Secretary of State keeps voter roles up to date. This brings up another issue before California greens; should we allow “decline-to-state” voters to cast a vote in our primaries
The San Francisco election proves the value of IRV and must continue to push for it. Next, we must decide how much political capital to spend on other electoral reforms. A short list of recommended initiatives will include; creating multi- member districts, promoting proportional representation, public financing, standardized voting technology with paper trail, voter registration reform including same day registration, elimination of unfair ballot access rules for third party and independent candidates, equal access to media coverage and independent and open debates for all legitimate candidates, an election day holiday or two election days, abolition of the electoral college and more controversial ideas, None-of-the-Above, non-citizen voting and to increase turnout by providing a small tax deduction for proof of voting on state tax returns.