California Enshrines the Duopoly
by Ralph Nader
Last month, Big Business interests shamelessly dealt our already depleted democracy a devastating blow by misleading California voters into approving Proposition 14, without their opponents being able to reach the people with rebuttals. This voter initiative provides that the November elections in that state for members of Congress and state elective offices are reserved only for the top two vote-garnering candidates in the June primary.
There are no longer any party primaries per se, only one open primary. Voters can vote for any candidate on the ballot for any office. Presidential candidates are still under the old system.
Since the two major parties are the wealthiest and have the power of incumbency and favored rules, the “top two” as this “deform” is called, will either be a Republican and a Democrat or, in gerrymandered districts, two Republicans or two Democrats.
Goodbye to voter choices for smaller third party and independent candidates on the ballot in November who otherwise would qualify, with adequate signature petitions, for the ballot. Goodbye to new ideas, different agendas, candidates and campaign practices. The two Party tyranny is now entrenched in California to serve the barons of big business who outspent their opponents twenty to one for tv and radio ads and other publicity.
To seal this voter incarceration by the two-party duopoly, Proposition 14 decreed that even write-in votes in November by contrarian citizens could no longer be counted.
The Democratic and Republican Parties nominally opposed it, devoting very little money or staff to show their seriousness. Their principal complaint is that the Proposition opens a larger door for known celebrities to jump into the race and disrupt the Parties’ command-and-control systems.
The prior public debate over Proposition 14, for those who noticed the measure, was strange. First, the Ballot Book, sent to voters, misled voters by describing the measure as one that “Increases Right to Participate in Primary Elections.” In fact, it wipes out all other candidates on other lines but the top two vote-getters in November, thereby decreasing the right to participate in the general election.
Second, many of the state’s largest newspapers, except for the conservative Orange County Register, editorially endorsed Proposition 14, saying it would reduce “partisan bickering.”
As detailed in Ballot Access News, Richard Winger, the San Jose Mercury News claimed the measure would not harm minor party candidates. Their one example of a Green Party legislator was erroneous. The Monterey County Herald inaccurately claimed the League of Women Voters had endorsed the initiative. The Sacramento Bee, supported it, saying that the Green Party could well place first or second in San Francisco. The Greens never placed first or second in blanket primary years, according to the super-accurate, Mr. Winger.
Indeed, the smaller Parties all opposed Proposition 14. These included the Peace & Freedom Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Green Party. The energetic ballot-access group Free & Equal developed the leading web page (freeandequal.org) against the measure, and along with Californians for Electoral Reform used their tiny budgets to organize lightly covered press conferences to inform the public.
The final vote was 53.7% for and 46.3% against. The pro side advertisements, distorted as they were, reached millions of more voters than did the penurious opposition.
Curiously, if the by-mail voters were taken out of the equation, more voters who went to the polls on election day voted against Prop 14 (52%) than for it (48%). Winger suggests this difference may reflect the fact that election day voters benefited from the fuller public discussion of the Proposition 14, including its negatives, in the two weeks before election day.
Supporters of a “top two” scheme want to spread it throughout the country, with Michigan as the next stop. Already, Washington state enacted “top two” for the 2008 election. Predictably, it resulted in a “Democratic-Republican monopoly on the ballot [in November] for all congressional and all statewide state offices,” reports Winger.
The Washington state law is being challenged in the courts. Opponents of Proposition 14 assert they too will file a lawsuit challenging this censorious law, on constitutional grounds, in the federal courts.
The constant squeeze plays on the peoples’ democratic procedures to have a voice, to participate, challenge and dissent extends from the courts to the patsy regulatory agencies and the elections.
Ballot access obstacles are not enough for the monetized minds of corporations. Better, they say, to abolish election day altogether for minor parties and independent candidates.
What’s next for the corporate supremacists, who misled and lied to the people to get their vote for Prop 14? When will the people awake and repeal it?