California Proposition 14, Top Two Primaries Act (June 2010)

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A California Top Two Primaries Act ballot proposition was on the June 8, 2010 ballot in California as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, where it was approved.

Proposition 14 requires that candidates run in a single primary open to all registered voters, with the top two vote-getters meeting in a runoff. The new system took effect in the April 19, 2011 special election for State Senate, District 28.[1]

Specifically, Proposition 14 provides for a "voter-nominated primary election" for each state elective office and congressional office in California. Voters can vote in the primary election for any candidate for a congressional or state elective office without regard to the political party affiliations of either the candidate or the voter. Candidates can choose whether or not to have their political party affiliation displayed on the ballot.

Proposition 14 prohibits political parties from nominating candidates in a primary, although political parties will be allowed to endorse, support or oppose candidates. Elections for presidential candidates, and for members of political party committees and party central steering committees do not fall under the "top two" system.

Californians defeated Proposition 62 in 2004, a similar measure, by 54-46%. State of Washington voters approved a very similar measure, Initiative 872, in 2004, while Oregon voters rejected Measure 65, also a similar measure, in 2008.

The main argument supporters made in favor of Proposition 14 is that it might cause voters to elect more moderate members of the California State Legislature. Opponents make two main arguments. They say that in states where a similar system is in use, it has not resulted in the election of more moderate politicians, and that Proposition 14 will result in the destruction of California's minor and independent political parties.[2]

Election results

Proposition 14, Top Two Primaries Act
Approveda Yes 2,868,945 53.8%

These final election results are from the California Secretary of State June 8, 2010 results page.


As a result of the blanket primary, nine of California's 53 congressional districts had same-party candidates battling in the general election on November 6, 2012. Of those, seven were between Democrats.[3]

There were also nineteen same-party races in the state legislature in November.[3] Of the total 28 same-party contests, a study by the Public Policy Institute of California rated only twelve as competitive. Minor party candidates, meanwhile, were only able to make it to the general election in three races.[4]

“What we’ve noticed is candidates in California playing to a wider ideological audience as a result of the top-two primary, instead of tailoring their message to a very narrow base," said David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.[5]

For example, during the 2012 elections, over a dozen Republican candidates in contested legislative or Congressional races refused to sign a pledge for no new taxes. Although it had been a GOP staple in the past, under the new system candidates worry it could hurt them with Democratic voters.[4]

Lawsuits after the vote

Field v. Bowen

A group of plaintiffs including Richard Winger filed Field v. Bowen, the first of what is expected to be several lawsuits against Prop 14 in San Francisco Superior Court on July 29, 2010.[6]

The lawsuit challenges two provisions in Proposition 14 and asks the court to block enforcement of the new law until legislation has been enacted that removes the two contested provisions. They are:

  • A provision in Prop that orders write-in votes in runoffs to be discarded.
  • A provision in Prop 14 that prevents some candidates from listing their party affiliation/preference on the ballot.

Gautam Dutta is the attorney for the group of plaintiffs. He said that voters did not know about Prop 14's ban on write-in votes because the ban was not described in the state's voter guide: "They'll be throwing their votes away without even being told that by voting for a write-in, your vote won't count."

On December 15, 2010, the California Supreme Court declined the request in Field v. Bowen that it block the implementation of Proposition 14. The December 15 decision applied only to that part of Field v. Bowen relating to ballot labels. An appeal is still pending before the appeals court in San Francisco pertaining to the question of write-in votes.[7][8]

I-872 lawsuit

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Local measures

In the wake of Proposition 14's victory, its opponents are said to be considering a "long-shot" lawsuit against it. The legal strategy is partly based on a federal lawsuit that will be heard by a federal court in Seattle, Washington, in November 2010. That lawsuit is a challenge to Washington State's Top Two Primary Act, I-872. The basis of that challenge is an earlier judicial ruling that upheld I-872, at least temporarily, on the grounds that contrary to the assertions of opponents, voters do not think that the candidates whose names they see on November general election ballots in a state with a "top two" election system are Republicans and Democrats.[9]

In March 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, in a lawsuit seeking to nullify Washington's I-872 that the plaintiffs in the suit, the Republican and Democratic parties, had not proved that the law would violate their rights. The political parties said that voters would, in fact, assume that the names they saw on November ballots were nominees of the political parties. The nation's highest court said that this claim was "sheer speculation." However, two years later, in 2010, with empirical evidence now available to help the courts discover what voters do, in fact, believe about the partisan affiliations of the names they see on November general election ballots, the plaintiffs in the Washington State case have gone back to the federal courts with this new evidence which they claim proves their earlier assertion about what voters believe.[9]

If the plaintiffs in the Washington State case who are seeking to have I-872 win or lose at the federal district court level, the ruling will inevitably be appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and California is in the Ninth Circuit.

There, according to Michael Feinstein, an attorney who is the national co-chair of the Green Party, "We believe Proposition 14 will fall. It sets an unacceptably high threshold for participation in the general election."[9]

Text of measure

Ballot title and label: "Elections. Increases Right to Participate in Primary Elections." Reforms the primary election process for congressional, statewide, and legislative races. Allows all voters to choose any candidate regardless of the candidate’s or voter’s political party preference. Ensures that the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes will appear on the general election ballot regardless of party preference.

(Note: This ballot title was written by a California Superior Court judge on March 12, 2010 in response to a ballot title lawsuit. The previous ballot title said, "Primary election process reform. Greater participation in elections.")[10][11]

Official summary: Encourages increased participation in elections for congressional, legislative, and statewide offices by reforming the procedure by which candidates are selected in primary elections. Gives voters increased options in the primary by allowing all voters to choose any candidate regardless of the candidate’s or voter’s political party preference. Provides that candidates may choose not to have a political party preference indicated on the primary ballot. Provides that only the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes in the primary will appear on the general election ballot regardless of party preference. Does not change primary elections for President, party committee offices and nonpartisan offices.[12]

Estimated fiscal impact: The data are insufficient to identify the amount of any increase or decrease in costs to administer elections will increase.

(Note: On March 12, Sacramento Superior Court judge Allen Sumner threw out the fiscal impact estimate that had been provided by the California Legislative Analyst's Office and wrote his own fiscal estimate analysis. The LAO's fiscal estimate summary said, "No significant net change in state and local government costs to administer elections." The LAO is appealing Sumner's ruling.)[13]

Constitutional changes

California Constitution
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See also: Complete text of Proposition 14, the Top Two Primaries Act

The approval of Prop 14 by the state's voters has amended Section 5 and Section 6 of Article II of the California Constitution.

Article II, Section 5

Section 5 of Article II has been amended as follows. Existing provisions in Section 5 which have been deleted by Proposition 14 appear in strike-out type and new provisions that Proposition 14 has added appear in italic type.

SEC. 5.

(a) A voter-nomination primary election shall be conducted to select the candidates for congressional and state elective offices in California. All voters may vote at a voter-nominated primary election for any candidate for congressional and state elective office without regard to the political party preference disclosed by the candidate or the voter, provided that the voter is otherwise qualified to vote for candidates for the office in question. The candidates who are the top two vote-getters at a voter-nominated primary election for a congressional or state elective office shall, regardless of party preference, compete in the ensuing general election.

(b) Except as otherwise provided by Section 6, a candidate for a congressional or state elective office may have his or her political party preference, or lack of political party preference, indicated upon the ballot for the office in the manner provided by statute. A political party or party central committee shall not nominate a candidate for any congressional or state elective office at the voter-nominated primary. This subdivision shall not be interpreted to prohibit a political party or party central committee from endorsing, supporting, or opposing any candidate for a congressional or state elective office. A political party or party central committee shall not have the right to have its preferred candidate participate in the general election for a voter-nominated office other than a candidate who is one of the two highest vote-getters at the primary election, as provided in subdivision (a).

(c) The Legislature shall provide for primary partisan elections for partisan offices presidential candidates, and political party and party central committees, including an open presidential primary whereby the candidates on the ballot are those found by the Secretary of State to be recognized candidates throughout the nation or throughout California for the office of President of the United States, and those whose names are placed on the ballot by petition, but excluding any candidate who has withdrawn by filing an affidavit of noncandidacy.


(d) A political party that participated in a primary election for a partisan office pursuant to subdivision (c) has the right to participate in the general election for that office and shall not be denied the ability to place on the general election ballot the candidate who received, at the primary election, the highest vote among that party’s candidates.

Article II, Section 6

Section 6 of Article II would be amended as follows. Existing provisions in Section 6 that are proposed for deletion by Proposition 14 appear in strike-out type and new provisions that Proposition 14 proposes to add appear in italic type.

SEC. 6.

(a) All judicial, school, county, and city offices, including the Superintendent of Public Instruction, shall be nonpartisan.

(b) No A political party or party central committee may endorse, support, or oppose shall not nominate a candidate for nonpartisan office, and the candidate’s party preference shall not be included on the ballot for the nonpartisan office.


"Yes on 14" website logo

Proposition 14 was endorsed by the California Chamber of Commerce and the Latin Business Association.[14] Other prominent supporters included:

A group of local Chambers of Commerce in southeast Los Angeles County that includes the Chambers of Santa Fe Springs, Whittier, Norwalk, and two other cities, rescinded their endorsement of Proposition 14 after hearing presentations from both campaigns on March 12.[25]

"The vast majority of business groups in the state and in Los Angeles County, including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, strongly support the proposition, saying that open primaries would result in more centrist candidates, and presumably more business-friendly ones, getting elected to the Legislature."[26]

Arguments in favor

Steve Peace supporting Prop 14

Supporters of Proposition 14 believe:

  • The Top Two primary system will put more moderate politicians in office.
  • It will reduce the partisanship that causes legislative gridlock.[14]
  • Proposition 14 will cut down on "meaningless runoff" elections.[21]
  • Members of the California's state legislators are "scared of everything because their main purpose is to get re-elected" and this measure will solve that problem.[22]
  • "...if the concept spreads, the jackass quotient in state legislatures and Congress will decrease."[18]
  • Proposition 14 provides California voters with the "...rare opportunity to free their government from the kind of ideological gridlock that leads to lengthy budget stalemates, one-sided elections and control of this state's politics by special interests at the extremes of both major parties."[17]
  • Maldonado: "If you like the way you elect your board of supervisors, you’ll love the open primary. And if you love dysfunction and you love the idea of Abel Maldonado sleeping under his desk at 3:30 in the morning to vote on the budget, then you’ll hate the open primary."[27]
  • Steve Westly: "Open primaries would free candidates to take positions on issues that they feel are right for their districts without fear of retribution from political parties or special interests."[23]
  • Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California: "An open primary doesn't guarantee that we're going to have a more moderate Legislature, but it's more likely."[28]


See also: Donations to California's 2010 ballot propositions

The campaign urging a "yes" vote on Proposition 14 registered with the California Secretary of State's office as "Californians for an Open Primary."

On May 18, Arnold Schwarzenegger is hosting a dinner at his home to raise funds for the "Yes on 14" campaign committee. Each ticket to the May 18 fundraising dinner costs $50,000.[29]

The campaign for a "yes" vote raised close to $5,000,000. Significant donors to the committee included:[30]

Donor Amount
California Dream Team $2,000,000
California Business PAC $720,000
Reed Hastings $257,328
California Association of Hospitals $250,000
Eli Broad $100,000
California Association of Health Underwriters $100,000
Hewlett-Packard $100,000
Brian Harvey $100,000
William Bloomfield $100,000
Herbalife International $100,000
Blue Shield of California $50,000
William Oberndorf $50,000

Eli Broad explained his donation of $100,000, saying, "I'm a lifelong Democrat, but I'm a centrist. Because of labor interests on the left and antitax folks on the extreme right, nothing gets done."[31]

Brian Harvey, a real estate developer in Los Angeles, explained his donation of $100,000, saying, "It makes me sick, this state is so dysfunctional. I think this will attract more moderate candidates."[31]

See also: Vendors and consultants to California's 2010 ballot proposition campaigns

Political consultants who provided paid services to the "Yes on 14" campaign included:


Heading into the final weeks of the campaign, the "No on 14: Protect Voter Choice" campaign committee was established to oppose Proposition 14. The California School Employees Association is helping to fund the campaign. Allan Clark, head of the CSEA, says, "Prop 14 will reduce voter choice, increase campaign spending, and eliminate write-in votes and third parties." The new "No on 14" group is expected to raise "hundreds of thousands" for its campaign. In addition to Clark's group, a group called "StopProp14.Com," composed primarily of Republicans and taxpayer activists, also pledges to spend hundreds of thousands to defeat Prop 14. According to Jon Fleischman, "Proposition 14 is designed to limit voter choice. While masquerading as ‘reform’ this measure will mean that voters will have far few choices of candidates in general elections – in many cases there will be two candidates from the same party." Both opposition groups emphasize that Proposition 14 is backed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.[32]


California has six ballot-qualified political parties, the Democratic Party, Republican Party, Green Party, Peace & Freedom Party, American Independent Party and the Libertarian Party. The six parties held a joint press coverage on May 11 in Sacramento to express their mutual opposition to Proposition 14.[33][34][35]

Other notable opponents include:

  • Richard Winger of Ballot Access News is a leading opponent of the Top-Two Primary proposal. When arguments in favor of the measure are advanced by others, he often counters with a detailed rebuttal.[36]
  • The group "Californians for Electoral Reform" (CfER). CfER has been organized in California for about ten years. It focuses on ways to make voting more fair.[37]
  • The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly on February 11, 2010 to oppose Proposition 14 "based upon the ACLU’s strong interest in the value and rights of political parties, including third parties, the potential infringement upon these parties’ First Amendment rights of association, and our previous position in 2004 in opposition to Proposition 62."
  • State senator Loni Hancock[38] and California State Assembly representative Sandre Swanson.[39]
  • Steven Greenhut of the Pacific Research Institute.[40]
  • Bob Cuddy, a columnist with the San Luis Obispo Tribune.[41]
  • Ralph Nader.[42]
  • Meg Whitman, a candidate for governor.[43]
  • The Center for Voting and Democracy (FairVote), a nationwide election reform group, opposes Proposition 14.[44]
  • The California League of Conservation Voters: "The system will shut out participation by minor parties and make it more difficult for alternate political views to have a place in the general election discussion."[45]

Arguments against

Jon Fleischman opposing Prop 14
  • Proposition 14 will increase the costs of administering elections.[46]
  • A similar system, in use in Louisiana for congressional elections from 1978-2006, "was even better for incumbents than a normal system" according to Richard Winger. He says, "In all the 30 years the system was used, only one incumbent member of Congress was ever defeated for re-election."[47]
  • Proposition 14, if enacted, will increase the cost of campaigns, because it requires major party members to run two separate election campaigns each of which must reach out to the full electorate.[39]
  • "One of the reasons California is in such a financial pickle is that there aren't enough new and innovative ideas or discussions about serious old ideas. The top-two initiative seeks to address that issue by reducing choices even more and making general elections more about personalities than issues."[40]
  • The measure is likely to increase the cost of campaigning and make it more expensive to run for office than is currently the case.[38]
  • GOP state chair Ron Nehring: "This measure will contribute to the further political Balkanization of California. It will limit voter choice. It will not have the result its proponents claim. Other than that, it’s a fine idea."[27]
  • Bruce Cain, director of the Washington program for the University of California Berkeley: "Louisiana has it, and nobody would argue that their politics are more moderate. Washington has had various versions of it, and nobody would argue that they’re less partisan. I think the whole thing is oversold."[27]
  • "I am not convinced this proposal will support the type of reform so many of us desire....This might mean fewer choices for voters on the general election ballot."[48]
  • Longstanding national ACLU policy states: “Political parties are vital expressions of the right to free speech and association. They help to organize the choices of the electorate, bring alternative policies and candidates to the attention of the voters, and may provide an effective means for citizens to control and direct the government. As voluntary associations, parties are protected by the First Amendment rights of speech and association. These First Amendment rights require that a political party, no less than other organizations … be free to endorse candidates for nomination to public office, whether in partisan or nonpartisan elections …. Regulations that control membership, structure, or programs of political parties go to the heart of the right of association, and are impermissible in almost every instance …. The ACLU supports Supreme Court decisions that have allowed parties both to restrict participation to declared members of the party, and to open participation to independents, to determine the composition of party governing bodies, and to seat national convention delegates without regard to state law …. The ACLU opposes legislation and practices which give any party or parties a privileged, institutionalized role in elections and government, such as disproportionate access to appointments, media debates, or campaign finance.”
  • According to Bob Cuddy, if the Top Two Primaries Act is approved, it will destroy California's minor and independent parties: "Only the top two candidates emerge from the primary? We all can see what that means — no minor parties. Adios, Green Party. Hasta la vista, Libertarians. It’s been nice knowing you, American Party. See you in some alternate political universe, Peace and Freedomers. Move along, Independents."[41]
  • Cres Vellucci of California's Green Party says that Prop 14 will restrict voter choices just at a time when voters are particularly unhappy with the choices they've been getting. He says, "So eliminating other parties from the general election is opposite of what should happen" to satisfy voter demand for a wider range of choices.[35]
  • Debra Reiger, state officer with California's Peace and Freedom Party: "This is going to reduce democracy in the guise of people getting more choice in the primary."[2]

Winger re: Elias:

Richard Winger arguing against Prop 14

Winger has written that arguments in favor of the top-two primary put forward by Thomas Elias in favor of the Top-Two system contain "several important factual errors."[49]

The inaccuracies that Elias is said to be responsible for include:

  • Elias says that the top-two system is "just like special elections" whereas, according to Winger, in California special legislative and U.S. House elections are not like “top-two”. Winger writes, "The first round in the California 'top-two' proposal is never an election. No one can be elected in the first round under 'top-two.' The first round is nothing but an exclusionary device to keep candidates off the general election ballot."
  • Elias says the under current law, "voters can only cast ballots (in the primary) for candidates in the party where they’re registered."[17] Winger says, "In reality, independent voters may vote in California Democratic primaries for all office, and in California Republican primaries for all office except President."[49]
  • Elias says the California State Legislature is "loaded with ideologues."[17]. Winger says, "[Elias] doesn’t say who they are. Proponents of “top-two” constantly make this claim but they never have the nerve to list which legislators they mean."[49]
  • Elias says Louisiana has been using a top-two system "for more than 50 years."[17] Winger says, "Louisiana started using its current system for state office (in which there are no party primaries) 34 years ago. Also the Louisiana system is not quite the same as “top-two” because in Louisiana, the first round is an election."[49]
  • Winger says, "Elias ignores all evidence of how 'top-two' worked in Washington state in 2008, the first time it had been used there. Only one incumbent state legislator (out of 124 seats that were up) was defeated in the primary, and the percentage of Washington state legislative seats that switched parties was lower than in California that same year. Also, Washington state’s first “top-two” primary, in 2008, had a lower voter turnout than in 2004, when Washington state used a classic open primary. “Top-two” proponents commonly assert that turnout increases under “top-two”, but ignore the actual evidence."[49]

Winger re: Alter:

In response to a September 2009 column in Newsweek by Jonathan Alter advocating for the Top-Two measure on the grounds that it will reduce the number of what Alter referred to as "jackasses" in public life, Winger responded:

  • The "top-two" system helps incumbents, according to Winger: "When it was used for the first time in Washington state in 2008, out of 123 state legislative races, only one incumbent was defeated in the primary, and his reputation at the time of the primary was such that he probably would have been defeated under any election system."[50]
  • According to Winger, "Corrupt special interests were the top financial backers" when Proposition 62 qualified for the 2004 ballot in California. The leading financial backer of Proposition 62 was Countrywide Home Loans, which has subsequently been sued by 10 states for its sales practices with regard to adjustable rate loans. Winger says, "big business executives favored “top-two” because it screens out from the general election" those candidates who don't have the resources to place first or second in the first round.[50]
  • The top-two system "wipes minor party and independent candidates out of the general election campaign season. Winger says, "This was shown when Washington state used the system for the first time in 2008. For the first time since Washington became a state, no minor party or independent candidates appeared on the November ballot in any congressional election or any statewide state office election."[50]
  • The top-two system may be unconstitutional. On August 20, 2009, a U.S. District Court in Washington state said the system may be unconstitutional, ordering additional hearings and possibly a trial.[50]
  • The top-two system increases the cost of campaigns, according to Winger, because it "forces candidates to run, in effect, two campaigns in front of the entire electorate (assuming they qualify for the second round."[50]


See also: Donations to California's 2010 ballot propositions

Six different campaign committees filed in opposition to Proposition 14. Cumulatively, these campaign committees raised just short of $300,000.

Those who gave money to one or more of the campaign committees formed to oppose Proposition 14 included:

See also: Vendors and consultants to California's 2010 ballot proposition campaigns

Political consultants who provided paid services to the "No on 14" campaign included:

Editorial positions

"Yes on 14"

Newspaper editorial boards weighing in for a "yes" vote on Proposition 14 include:

  • The (Petaluma) Press Democrat: "Competitive elections, a greater role for independent voters, bipartisan government. What's not to like?"[52]
  • The Sacramento Bee. They say, " would empower candidates who, because they refuse to pander to the party machines, are now reluctant to throw their hats into the ring."[53]
  • The Los Angeles Times. They say, "'s a modest step toward eliminating some of the incentives that encourage our representatives to dig in and resist sensible compromise."[55]
  • The Redding Record-Searchlight: "It offers the hope of a more pragmatic approach to solving California’s massive problems."[56]
  • The Marin Independent-Journal: "Proposition 14 could help bring cooperation and collaborative problem solving back to Sacramento."[57]
  • The San Gabriel Valley Tribune: "California elections need a shaking up...[we and others] recommend a "yes" vote this June on Proposition 14, a Hail-Mary pass that might bolster the ability of regular people, not party favorites, to be sent to Sacramento to represent us."[58]
  • The Merced Sun-Star: "But it would empower candidates who, because they refuse to pander to the party machines, are now reluctant to throw their hats into the ring."[59]
  • The Santa Cruz Sentinel: "We have no illusions that Proposition 14 will suddenly turn the Legislature into a harmonious house of compatibility. That's a tall order. But Proposition 14 is a first step in taming our dysfunctional family."[60]
  • The Lompoc Record: "Our view is that the polarizing nature of the two-party system, which in recent years has only become more pronounced, calls for trying a new direction."[61]
  • The Monterey County Herald: "The political parties don't like this one because it would make them less relevant, which is largely the point. Backers of Proposition 14 argue that it would move candidates toward the middle. That is because rather than appealing only to their party's core, the way gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner are now pandering almost exclusively to the conservative side of the GOP, the candidates would try to seek votes from everyone."[62] (Note: The Monterey County Herald's editorial says that the League of Women Voters is in favor of Proposition 14. However, the League of Women Voters adopted a neutral position on Proposition 14 and did not endorse it. Richard Winger has asked the Monterey County Herald to issue a retraction.[63])

"No on 14"

  • The Orange County Register: "...Proposition 14 does little to change the status quo. Electoral districts in California are so gerrymandered – drawn to give overwhelming advantage to one party – that the eventual winner often is chosen in the primary, and the general election doesn't matter. What supporters of Proposition 14 miss is the need for the electorate to have clear choices among philosophical visions for California. Creating an open primary this way, thus encouraging moderate, middle-of-the-road candidates, essentially amounts to elections between candidates with few policy differences where personality trumps substance. If you seek to encourage more candidates like Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for office in California, vote for Proposition 14. Otherwise we invite you to join us in opposing Proposition 14."[64]
  • The Visalia Times-Delta: "Expanding the electoral process to encourage more people to vote is a noble objective. Rigging the system in a way that could deceive voters is not."[65]
  • The Pacific Sun (Marin County): "The real change if Proposition 14 passes will come at the expense of third-party candidates, who stand little chance of taking part in a "top two" general election. Their ability to campaign, debate and take the major-party candidates to task (and siphon off critical votes) will be virtually silenced."[66]
  • Bay Area Reporter.[67]
  • North County Times: "Such a system will kill the minority parties and voter choice ---- goodbye to Green, Libertarian, American, Peace and Freedom, etc., candidates ever making it to a general election ballot or even having influence ---- and we think it will further cement Democratic and Republican control in those districts where a partisan lopsidedness already exists."[68]
  • Napa Valley Register: " is uncertain whether Proposition 14 would have a beneficial impact and it comes at a time when the elections process in California is already in flux. We urge a no vote."[69]
  • Vacaville Reporter: "There's no doubt that California's political system isn't working well right now, but Proposition 14 doesn't guarantee that it will make it work any better. In the long run, the unintended consequences of Proposition 14 make it an unpalatable choice."[70]


See also: Polls, 2010 ballot measures

The Public Policy Institute of California conducted a survey of 628 likely voters in mid-March. It showed 56% of likely voters supporting Proposition 14.[71]

PPIC conducted another poll in mid-May on Proposition 14. This poll showed that while sentiment in favor of a "no" vote was unchanged from March 2010 levels, sentiment in favor of a "yes" vote had increased by 4 points.[72][73]

Date of Poll Pollster In favor Opposed Undecided
March 9-16, 2010 PPIC 56% 27% 17%
May 9-16, 2010 PPIC 60% 27% 13%
May 19-26, 2010 GQR/American Viewpoint 52% 28% 20%

Studies and analysis

The Center for Governmental Studies released a 102-page analysis of Proposition 14 in late April. The study was written by Molly Milligan.

According to the CGS analysis:

  • Proposition 14 would likely have the result of electing more moderate politicians to the California State Senate.
  • Campaign spending would likely increase. ("Candidates will have to spend at least twice what they now spend in the June election to reach all voters because the primary election will be waged as if it were a general election.")[74]
  • On page 17, in footnote 11, the report says that in the Massachusetts special U.S. Senate election of January 2010, if Massachusetts had used top-two, Scott Brown would not have qualified for the second round.
  • In a notable number of state legislative races, and some U.S. House races, the November election would be between two Democrats. But, the study also concludes, there would be few, if any, November contests between two Republicans.[75]

Richard Winger criticized the study because it:

  • "...does not mention that Proposition 14 makes it more difficult for ballot-qualified minor parties to remain ballot-qualified."
  • "...does not mention the adverse impact that Proposition 14, if passed, would have on Proposition 15, the public funding measure."
  • "...does not mention the problem of no party labels for candidates who are members of unqualified parties."[75]

Conflict with "Fair Elections?"

See also: California Fair Elections Act (2010)

Opponents of the Top Two Primary measure say that it is conflict with another measure on the June 8 ballot, the Fair Elections Act. If the two propositions are in conflict, Section 4 of Article XVIII of the California Constitution decrees, "If provisions of 2 or more measures approved at the same election conflict, those of the measure receiving the highest affirmative vote shall prevail."[76]

Richard Winger says:

"The two election law measures that will be on the June 2010 California ballot do not fit together. The public funding measure has at least eight sections that presume that political parties nominate candidates for state office, and that independent candidates do not appear on the primary ballot. But the top-two open primary sets up a scheme under which parties would not have nominees for state office, and also provides that independent candidates would run in the primary."

Ballot title challenge

Legal challenge

The California School Employees Association, which opposes Proposition, filed a legal challenge to Proposition 14's ballot title in Sacramento County Superior Court on March 2. The lawsuit asserted that ballot language in the current summary and title that speaks of "greater voter participation" and "reform" is not neutral.[10]

The union used the law firm Olson, Hagel & Fishburn.[77] Ballot title issues must be resolved before March 15, which is when the state prints its official voter's guide to the June 8 ballot propositions.

California state legislators who voted to put Proposition 14 on the ballot as a legislative referral greed not to fight the legal challenge and instead, to settle on a different ballot title with Proposition 14. This choice on the part of lawmakers is said to have "enraged" supporters of Proposition 14.[10]

Compromise language

The language the legislature agreed to use is:

Ballot title:
Elections. Primaries.
Ballot summary:
Changes the primary election process for congressional, statewide and legislative races. Allows all voters to choose any candidate regardless of the candidate’s or voter’s political party preference. A candidate may choose to have his or her party preference, or lack thereof, indicated on the ballot. Provides that the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes will appear on the general election ballot regardless of party preference. Eliminates the existing constitutional right of a political party that participated in the primary election to participate in the general election.

Intervention and outrage

Supporters of Proposition 14 objected to the legislature agreeing to this proposed new language and were successful at getting the court to identify them as an intervening party so they could ask the court not to accept the proposed settlement.[77]

Dan Morain, a senior editor at the Sacramento Bee, characterized the deal between the state legislature and opponents of Proposition 14 as "stunning."[78] Abel Maldonado said the move was "frankly embarrassing."[78] Steve Merksamer, of Maldonado's law firm Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor said, "I've been in this business for over 40 years, and I have witnessed a lot of outrageous behavior. I must say I have never seen a more cynical or shameful attempted abuse of power."[78] At least one newspaper editorialized against the legislature agreeing to adopt a new ballot title.[79]

Richard Winger took note of the outrage and commented that similar expressions of outrage were not heard from California's punditocracy in 2008 or 2009 when other ballot title lawsuits and settlements were reached.[79]

The court's decision

On Friday, March 12, Sacramento Superior Court judge Allen Sumner issued a decision that changed the original ballot title, but not in a way that pleased opponents of Proposition 14. Instead, Sumner changed the ballot language in a way that delighted supporters of Proposition 14. Amanda Fulkerson, a spokesperson for the "Yes on 14" organization, said: "We're ecstatic. The new language from the judge states things even more clearly than the old version."[13] Abel Maldonado said, "The sneaky attempt to derail the open primary has failed."[13]

Compared to Proposition 62

Californians defeated Proposition 62 in 2004. According to Richard Winger, a "....detailed look at the 2010 ballot measure shows that it is significantly less respectful of voter rights than the 2004 California proposal had been."

Comparing the two, Winger says:

  • The 2010 measure curtails the ability of voters to cast a write-in vote for anyone they wish in the general election by including as a provision "8606. A person whose name has been written on the ballot as a write-in candidate at the general election for a voter-nominated office shall not be counted." According to Winger, "If this passes, California would be one of only 7 states in which no voter could cast a write-in vote for Congress or state office in a November election, and have that write-in counted." Proposition 62 from 2004 had no such limitation. Californians have elected members of Congress using write-in votes in 1930, 1946 and 1982. That could not happen under the 2010 ballot proposition.[80]
  • Proposition 62 had a provision in it to make it easier for smaller parties to remain ballot qualified. By contrast, the 2010 proposition does not. Winger says, "If it becomes law, the only way a party will be able to remain on the ballot will be to have registration above 1% of the last gubernatorial vote. Currently that requirement is 88,991 registrants, but after 2010 it is likely to be close to 100,000 registrants. In October 2008 the Peace & Freedom Party only had 56,350 registrants, and the Libertarian Party only had 83,574, so both parties would need to significantly increase their registration, if the 2010 measure passes."[80]

Path to the ballot

See also: Amending the California Constitution

The "Top Two" primary ballot proposition was voted onto the ballot by the California State Legislature as part of an agreement reached between state senators to pass a tax-increase budget in 2009.[81]

A rumor persistent enough to make its way into the Sacramento Bee in late April 2010 had it that Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature might join forces to remove Proposition 14 from the ballot. However, legislative leaders denied the rumor; a spokesperson for Darrell Steinberg said, "It's news to us, not true."[82]

Similar ballot measures

Defeatedd Proposition 62 in 2004
Defeatedd Oregon Ballot Measure 65 (2008)
Approveda Washington Top Two Primaries, Initiative 872 (2004)

External links

Suggest a link

Basic information




  1. Redondo Beach Patch, "Feb. 15 Set for Special Election to Fill Oropeza's Seat," December 17, 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 San Francisco Chronicle, "Ballot measure would provide open primaries," March 11, 2010
  3. 3.0 3.1 Reuters, "Democrats face Democrats in new California election system," June 6, 2012
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Tribune, "California's top-two voting system changes campaigns, but will it alter governance?," October 8, 2012
  5. The New York Times, "New Rules Upend House Re-Election Races in California," September 24, 2012
  6. San Francisco Chronicle, "Suit over Proposition 14 abolishing party primaries," July 30, 2010
  7. Mercury News, "Calif Supreme Court won't block Proposition 14," December 15, 2010 (dead link)
  8. Writ of Mandate Reply Brief in Field v. Bowen
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 San Francisco Chronicle, "Parties weigh longshot challenges to Proposition 14," June 28, 2010
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Los Angeles Times, "Challenge could alter primary vote measure," March 8, 2010
  11. Sacramento Bee's Capitol Alert, "Judge orders ballot changes for open primary measure," March 12, 2010
  12. Independent Voting, "Statement by Harry Kresky, General Counsel," March 12, 2010
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Sacramento Bee, "Judge rules on open-primary ballot measure," March 12, 2010 (dead link)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Proposition 14: Campaign for open primaries rolls out of the gate," February 8, 2010
  15. [1]
  16. Ventura County Star, "Open primary should be top 2010 voter priority," December 18, 2009
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 Palo Alto Daily News, "Open primary can save California from ideological gridlock," June 16, 2009
  18. 18.0 18.1 Newsweek, "The Jackass-Reduction Plan," September 19, 2009
  19. Los Angeles Times, "What if Tom Campbell Had Money?," October 12, 2009
  20. Ballot Access News, "California’s New Lieutenant Governor," November 23, 2009
  21. 21.0 21.1 Los Angeles Times, "Californians to decide on open primary amendment," November 27, 2009
  22. 22.0 22.1 KCBS, "Schwarzenegger Talks Up Open Primary Measure in Silicon Valley," December 3, 2009
  23. 23.0 23.1 Los Angeles Times, "Ballot measures to the rescue," February 9, 2010
  24. Ballot Access News, "California Forward Publishes Report in Favor of Proposition 14," April 5, 2010
  25. Ballot Access News, "Local California Chamber of Commerce Retracts its Endorsement of Proposition 14 After Hearing Speakers from Both Sides," March 12, 2010
  26. Los Angeles Business Journal, "Primary Issue," May 3, 2010
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 San Diego Union Tribune, "Proposition 14 holds promise to change primaries," February 7, 2010
  28. Los Angeles Times, "California open primaries? Give them a chance," February 11, 2010
  29. Free and Equal, "Voters from All Six Qualified Political Parties Organize Anti-Proposition 14 Protests outside Upscale Sacramento Restaurant and Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Home" (dead link)
  30. Cal-Access, List of $5,000+ donors to the "Yes on Proposition 14" campaign
  31. 31.0 31.1 Business Week, "The Money That Fueled California's Election Revolt," June 16, 2010
  32. California Majority Report, "No on Prop 14 Picks Up Steam" as Labor, Dems, Reps, Third Parties Launch Efforts to Defeat Schwarzenegger's Measure," May 11, 2010
  33. Fox and Hounds Daily, "Top 3 Facts and Fantasies at the 'Big 6' No on Prop 14 Press Conference," May 12, 2010
  34. Los Angeles Times, "California Democratic Party convention wrap-up," April 19, 2010
  35. 35.0 35.1 Cal Watchdog, "Will Proposition 14 kill third parties?," February 19, 2010
  36. Sacramento Bee, "Single primary bid's a loser," September 27, 2009 (dead link)
  37. Ballot Access News, "Californians for Electoral Reform Resolves to Oppose “Top-Two Open Primary” on California Ballot in 2010," November 23, 2009
  38. 38.0 38.1 Ballot Access News, "California State Senator Criticizes "Top-Two" Measure," October 25, 2009
  39. 39.0 39.1 Ballot Access News, "California Legislator Sandre Swanson Speaks Out Against 'Top-Two Open Primary'," February 7, 2010
  40. 40.0 40.1 Orange County Register, "Misguided move to the middle," December 14, 2009
  41. 41.0 41.1 San Luis Obispo Tribune, "'Open' plan closes out third parties," February 21, 2010
  42. Sacramento Bee, "Should state adopt an open primary? Yes," March 28, 2010 (dead link)
  43. Ballot Access News, "Meg Whitman Opposes California’s Proposition 14," April 2, 2010
  44. Huffington Post, "Why FairVote Opposes California's Prop 14 - But Seeks Reform," April 13, 2010
  45. California League of Conservation Voters, "Endorsements for the June 8, 2010 primary election"
  46. California Independent Voter Network, "Assembly committee debates potential costs of open primary initiative," March 3, 2010
  47. Napa Valley Register, "Maldonado's election reform proposal deeply flawed," February 9, 2010
  48. The Desert Sun, "Lawmaker looks forward to second year," January 25, 2010
  49. 49.0 49.1 49.2 49.3 49.4 Ballot Access News, "Top-Two Proponent Has Factually Inaccurate Op-ed in Long Beach Press-Telegram," June 19, 2009
  50. 50.0 50.1 50.2 50.3 50.4 Ballot Access News, "Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter Writes in Support of “Top-Two”," September 19, 2009
  51. Sacramento Bee, "Campaign against Proposition 14 takes shape," May 11, 2010
  52. Press Democrat, "PD Editorial: Yes on 14," April 23, 2010
  53. Sacramento Bee, "Proposition 14 would be a win for democracy," April 26, 2010 (dead link)
  54. Ballot Access News, "Big California Newspapers Endorse Proposition 14," April 25, 2010
  55. Los Angeles Times, "Yes on Prop 14," April 21, 2010
  56. Redding Record-Searchlight, "Proposition 14 would smooth partisan edges," May 7, 2010
  57. Marin Independent-Journal, "IJ's choices for state propositions," May 10, 2010
  58. San Gabriel Valley Tribune, "Bring back the open primary," May 1, 2010
  59. Merced Sun-Star, "Proposition 14 a win for democracy," May 1, 2010
  60. Santa Cruz Sentinel, " Proposition 14 a first step in fixing state Legislature," May 12, 2010
  61. Lompoc Record, "Initiatives, confusion in primary," May 14, 2010
  62. Monterey Herald, "Proposition 14 gets a tough 'yes'," May 23, 2010
  63. Ballot Access News, "Monterey County Herald Makes Gaff in Editorial on Proposition 14," May 23, 2010
  64. Orange County Register, "Open invitation to bland candidates," May 7, 2010
  65. Visalia Times Delta, "Primary election 'reform' is chicanery," May 13, 2010
  66. Pacific Sun, "Everything you've wanted to know about the June 8 election but were afraid to ask…," May 14, 2010
  67. Ballot Access News, "Two Influential California Weeklies Endorse “No” Vote for Proposition 14," May 16, 2010
  68. North County Times, "Vote no on Proposition 14; save options," May 19, 2010
  69. Napa Valley Register, "No on 14 and 15," May 18, 2010
  70. Vacaville Reporter, "System 'fix' is also imperfect; Vote no on Proposition 14," May 24, 2010
  71. Public Policy Institute of California, "Voters’ Disdain for Leaders, Discontent With Parties a Volatile Mix," March 24, 2010
  72. Public Policy Institute of California, "Just the Facts: Primary Elections in California," May 2010
  73. Public Policy Institute of California, "Californians and Their Government," May 2010
  74. San Francisco Chronicle, "A year for desperate measures," May 2, 2010
  75. 75.0 75.1 Ballot Access News, "Center for Governmental Studies Issues Neutral Report on Proposition 14," April 30, 2010
  76. Ballot Access News, "Do Two California Ballot Measures, Both on the June 2010 Ballot, Conflict with Each Other?," January 23, 2010
  77. 77.0 77.1 Ballot Access News, "California Fight on Whether Proposition 14 Ballot Title Should Include 'Greater Participation in Elections'," March 8, 2010
  78. 78.0 78.1 78.2 Sacramento Bee, "Ballot-language ploy tars legislature," March 11, 2010 (dead link)
  79. 79.0 79.1 Ballot Access News, "Two California Journalists Think It is Shameful for Anyone to Correct Phony Titles for Ballot Measures," March 10, 2010
  80. 80.0 80.1 Ballot Access News, "California 2010 “Top-Two” Proposal Is More Restrictive for Voters than the California 2004 “Top-Two” Initiative," October 7, 2009
  81. Sacramento Bee, "Maldonado's price for budget vote: 3 constitutional amendments," February 19, 2009
  82. Fresno Bee, "Voters may get second try at election reform," April 27, 2010

Additional reading