In 2010, the Free and Equal Elections Foundation, with the help of an election law expert, Richard Winger, and many others, led an all-partisan nationwide effort against California’s Top Two Primary, also known as Proposition 14, because it was a hindrance to the ability of independent and alternative party candidates in getting elected. Top Two supporters had cleverly marketed the proposition as an “open” primary that would encourage more independents and third parties to run. Despite our efforts, it passed.
In 2012, Top Two opponents were successful in defeating Arizona’s version of the “open” primary, Proposition 121, by a 2 to 1 margin. Fortunately, Top Two is currently law in Washington State and California only, but it is back on Oregon’s November 2014 ballot after Oregon voters rejected the law in 2008.
Thus far, no independent has been able to get elected under the Top Two system in either California or Washington. Washington has used it in 2008, 2010 and 2012, and the track record indicates that Top Two squeezes out independents.
Most voters are predisposed to vote Republican or Democrat, so it takes a very strong effort and lots of time for an independent to win under a Top Two system. Top Two forces independent candidates to undertake the massive job of persuading voters to abandon the normal habit of voting for just Democrats or just Republicans and requires them to do so in a very short amount of time. This difficult task must be completed by early June when, under a normal election system, independents have until the November general election to persuade voters.
Fast forward to 2014 where we had a chance to observe and experience the California open primary in action, and guess what? The highly-exalted “open” primary system isn’t really all that open.
It was obvious that California voters weren’t paying much attention to the election during the first five months of 2014. The terrible turnout in June proved it, and everyone who has been paying attention to California politics knows it. People don’t get interested in the electoral process until after Labor Day during election years. By that time, it’s way too late because the Top Two system forces candidates to have all of that persuading of voters done by early June.
Marianne Williamson ran as an independent to represent the 33rd Congressional District, Henry Waxman’s long-time West LA seat. Williamson, a strong, bright, peaceful and popular candidate with a well-funded campaign and endorsements ranging from Dennis Kucinich to Deepak Chopra, came in 4th place. Top Two certainly didn’t help this internationally renowned spiritual leader advance in California’s “open” primary. We applaud her for standing on her own as an independent and entering the world of federal politics with grace and light.
If Marianne Williamson had been running under the old system,she could have won. She would have been guaranteed a spot on the November ballot by filing a petition signed by 3% of the electorate – something she easily could have done. Meanwhile, the Top Two winner in the 33rd District primary Republican, Elan Carr, was just in the news for not having filed a campaign finance report with the FEC. It was due July 1st, yet he will run against California State Senate Democrat ,Ted Lieu, in November for the 33rd District.
Simply put, the Top Two system injures voters who want to vote for independent candidates in November.
In the case of Rubin vs. Bowen, a lawsuit to put a stop to Top Two in California, an amicus is due on August 6, 2014 by Rubin, the side challenging the Top Two system. Handled by the Siegel & Yee law firm of Oakland, California, Rubin’s last brief demonstrates the case is strong and honorable. Free and Equal Elections has kindly requested that Marianne Williamson file an amicus brief against California’s Top Two in the case of Rubin vs. Bowen or issue a public statement against Top Two.