Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Drawing the party line in the Millennial era

The Sacramento Bee (6.1.10) - "Little evidence in Washington that 'top 2' primary moderates politics"

Proposition 14 is a June 8th California ballot measure that, if passed, will eliminate partisan restrictions on primary elections.  The article above is a lame attempt by some analysts to apply the effects of Washington's newly implemented "open primary" system to California elections.  Why would somebody even try to compare Washington state politics to California?!  Obviously the effects of an election-type law are going to differ from state to state, especially when one state has a fraction of the other's population.  California, in spite of its financial issues, is still a contender on the global economic scene.  Voters, legislators, and politicians here are constantly on the cutting edge of political and economic decision-making.  I'm not trying to sound arrogant here, I'm just trying to explain why I think this writer was comparing apples to oranges.

Here's why I think open primaries are a good idea for California, and maybe even most states.  The truth is that the party lines are currently dissolving due to a general sense of dissatisfaction with the government.  This isn't unusual--political parties often change their ideals and names as society progresses and certain issues become more or less relevant.  Often times people forget that the parties have gone through several changes even in the relatively short timeline of American history--remember the Federalists, Anti-Federalists, and Whigs from high school history?  Issues that the Democrats and Republicans have been battling over for years are simply becoming irrelevant, and no work is getting done because our old-fashioned partisan politicians are refusing to find new and innovative compromises.   Recent scandals, media hype, and the recession have also been serious blows to voter morale, and many people are choosing to no longer affiliate themselves with either party.

This brings me to current election rules.  For the primary gubernatorial election next Tuesday, each party will be allowing only their own registered members to vote for their own candidates (the Democratic party also allows registered Independents to vote).  Someone like me, who has declined to register with a political party, will not be permitted to vote for any candidate until the general election in November, unless you request a ballot by mail directly from the party you wish to vote for.

After the voting takes place, there is one winner from the Republican party and one Democratic winner.  That's basically it.  While non-affiliated candidates usually have not had a good chance at winning in the past, is it really right to cut off any chances of them running in the general election?  And what if two candidates from the same party could possibly be serious contenders in the race?  Doesn't matter--only the finalist from each party may run in the general election.  Our modified primary system simply does not allow for an underdog victory, and instead drives a wedge between the already floundering and overly regulated parties.  Prop. 14 would result in one universal ballot for all registered voters, as well as ensure that the top two vote recipients in the primary election go on to be the general election candidates, regardless of party.  It makes sense when you really think about it...why shouldn't the winners really be the winners? 

Opponents of this measure are trying to say that it simply won't make a difference--that the candidate with the most money will win the election no matter what.  I'm going to have to agree to disagree, on the grounds that I believe that is a complete insult to the intelligence of the Californian voter.  Ad campaigns and media attention are a big help to those running for office, but the last time I checked, the vast majority of people identify more with a candidate's basic values than how many commercials they have on the air.   

Prop. 14 is a good sign for young people because, if it passes, it will help California prepare for a truly bipartisan government in the future, if not multi-partisan.  The Millennial generation already shows great potential to bridge party gaps on many controversial social issues, including gay rights, drug policy, and racial interests.  The Millennials, I believe, will draw their own party lines years down the road, but until then, we need a "fair-and-square" voting system in which moderate and non-affiliated candidates will have a chance to change the way the government operates.  The change will be eventual--California elections will probably still be Democrat vs. Republican for a number of years--but without Prop. 14, we might never get the chance at all.  If we're electing the next executive for our state, I'd rather have a winner than a finalist, wouldn't you?  This is another culture shock I can definitely get behind.    

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