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home : opinions : letters May 26, 2016

10/2/2012 8:09:00 AM
Letter: Vote no on Proposition 121


Further to Jim Barber’s letter opposing Top Two open primaries (“Two-party primary system ensures real choice,”), while I agree Top Two supporters’ claims are totally specious, I’m relieved Proposition 121 will go to the voters in a presidential election year. The more voters that turn up, the harder it is to pass a ballot measure with a last-minute cadre of special interest groups.

For what it’s worth, I was working the polls when California’s 1998 “blanket” primary experiment was introduced with great media fanfare. Initiated by former U.S. Representative Tom Campbell (R) backed by Hewlett-Packard, this amendment was supposed to cure declining participation by giving everyone more say in candidate selection.

Voter turnout at our precinct didn’t increase one bit. Overall, Los Angeles County remained essentially the same, and so did California. Some people blamed the blanket primary for Gray Davis (the Governor Californians recalled), but these were the same people who gave us Arnold. The only result I saw was that, in practice, voters disliked open primaries enough to gripe at someone besides poll workers. Ultimately, the Democrats challenged it and won.

The 2002 election cycle, California tried a semi-open primary system that allowed Independents to vote in a partisan race (like Arizona’s). This didn’t affect voter turnout either; but voters in our precinct felt more comfortable with partisan ballots, and over the next decade, most of our Independents voted in either Republican or Democratic primaries. Unlike the blanket primary, we didn’t have a single complaint.

Nonetheless, in 2004, Californians For An Open Primary, whose backing eludes me, placed a Top Two open primary initiative on the ballot. As far as I can remember, no one endorsed it--certainly not the League of Women Voters. I don’t recall any heroic efforts to defeat it, either. California voters just turned it down (5,968,770 [54%] to 5,119,155 [46%] according to election records).

Apparently, though, some powerful special interests are nothing if not determined. According to Wikipedia, the California Legislature put up the same Top Two amendment in 2010, supposedly authored by State Senator Abel Maldonado (R), and it passed (2,868,945 [54%] to 2,470,658 [46 %]). The New York Times credits this to Gov. Schwarzenegger’s stumping for it. Other sources say that was because Arnold wanted Senator Maldonado’s help with something else. I can’t comment. I was busy moving to Arizona where, believe it or not, politics seems a little saner.

So far, reports I’ve read on California’s 2012 Top Two Open Primary experiment indicate it didn’t do as well as the blanket primary. And I can tell you right now whoever is working a precinct with two of one party in November had better have earplugs. There will be irate voters, and the ones screaming loudest will be those who thought Top Two simply gave them license to spoil the opposition’s nominations. There will also be lots of people giving the electronic ballot-checker fits by marking both candidates to register their displeasure. If write-ins are allowed, there will be lots of rude additions. Besides, if Top Two does shift emphasis to the primaries, many voters will only turn up for the primary. Which, of course, plays havoc with ballot measures.

And for what? The Top Two primary system has made a mess of Louisiana’s political establishment since 1979. Washington State’s two-and-a-half election cycles don’t seem to have done anything except keep its third major party and all other alternatives out of the general election. As one commenter to Mr. Barber’s letter noted, that eliminates dissenting Independents’ ability to send a clear message to the people who set Republican and Democratic policy. How will this remove entrenched politicians, improve the quality of candidates, or moderate platforms?

Before looking for villains, though, I’d consider one simple fact. Unrestricted (open) primaries are easier to conduct. Election Divisions don’t have to keep track of each voter’s party affiliations and mail separate voter materials. Precinct officers don’t have to deal with affiliation errors in the voter roster and keep track of multiple ballots. It’s possible the driving force behind all this futzing with primaries is Secretaries of State who’ve had to counter charges of fraud and County Recorders who’ve had to assuage disgruntled precinct officers.

So I hope voters will take a few minutes to inform themselves on Top Two open primaries in general and vote no on Proposition 121. But I also hope majority and minority and non-party leaders will get together with county registrars and work out a system that satisfies everyone’s concerns. Otherwise, I fear Top Two will keep coming back until it gets passed.

T. Hearn


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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2012
Article comment by: itsy bitsy Spider

Nice catch, Mr. Eagletarian. I missed that one. Mind if I add it to my list?

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Article comment by: Arizona Eagletarian

Ted Downing told a fib. The school board and city council elections ELIMINATE the party labels. Prop 121 ALLOWS labels, whatever label a real or fake candidate wants to use. That's a fundamental flaw in the system that will further enable sinister manipulation of the system.

Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Article comment by: itsy bitsy Spider

How does one over-protest in a vacuum, Mr. Hearn? The only people paying attention are you, the VI's webmaster, a few OEOG drones, and maybe Slater Slater & nutso fasst.

Prop. 121 will, indeed, affect the future of Arizonan's say in anything. But it's so much more fun to critique Michelle Obama's wardrobe, speculate on Ann Romney's empathy quotient, and debate the meaning of 47%.

If you want to protect your vote and/or mine, it's time to stop blathering at web crawlers. Forget presidents. Forget itsy bitsy facts. Get out there and slug the major premise. Why would voters want a clutch of clones mouthing whatever they think voters want to hear? (Hedgpeth, pgs. 88-89, General Election Guide)

Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Article comment by: T. Hearn

Reply to Itsy Bitsy Spider:

While I understand your concern, I think you're getting carried away with conspiracy theories. First it's the Republicans and Democrats trying to "corral" independents. Now it's politicians riding roughshod over everyone in their race for public office. Be careful you don't protest too much.

Posted: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Article comment by: itsy bitsy Spider

You and Mr. Downing better stay away from used car salesmen, Mr. Hearn.

Top Two is not a creation of the National Association of Secretaries of State. The timing of Proposition 121 is not innocent.

Odds are former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson is positioning himself for another run at the governorship, this time as an independent. Most likely, his backers want Top Two in place because someone has convinced them it will give liberals an edge.

But take a closer look at Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's latest antics. First he goads The Arizona Republic into unequivocally supporting the measure by vowing to keep it off the ballot. Then he artfully loses two Supreme Court challenges of legitimate lower court and SoS decisions. Meanwhile, he's pressuring Az Attorney General Tom Horne into making an ass of himself on a very touchy issue. And when the ACLU steps in to protect Arizonans' right to get busted by the Feds if they want to, Mr. Montgomery hits Horne with a 2-year-old campaign finance violation suit. This man is either the world's most clueless screwup or he is after fellow-Republican Tom Horne's job. Either way, Top Two would definitely protect his current incumbency and definitely give him an advantage in an open primary race for Attorney General.

Top Two advocates are right about one thing. Politics is about personal ambitions not party ideologies.

Sincere or otherwise, however, they are dead wrong about Top Two being any kind of reform. It's simply another tried and true tool in professional politicians' bag of tricks.

Posted: Saturday, October 6, 2012
Article comment by: T. Hearn

Reply to Itsy Bitsy Spider:
I don't know why Top Two. It doesn't even benefit major parties in the long run. But part of the reason may be that blanket primaries were ruled unconstitutional and other States have already spent the money to get Top Two's constitutionality approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. If you want an unrestricted primary, that's the easiest option.

Reply to Ted Downing:
1. That's a fine sentiment. But practically speaking, in all democratic systems, there is nothing more fundamental than voter turnout. It governs everything from who gets on the ballot and who represents you through passing or rejecting tax, land, and water issues. That's why citizen watch groups and truly concerned politicians worry whenever participation starts going down, and down, and down.

2. In America, it is every citizen's right to vote. But it's also every citizen's right to associate with like-minded individuals. Arizona's current primary system attempts to balance these two occasionally conflicting imperatives. Unaffiliated voters can first choose the party platform that most appeals to them and then select the nominee they believe best represents them. Now, what happens to your right to select the top two candidates in the general election if both major parties put up only one candidate for each open seat? Suddenly, your choices have been curtailed, and if no other candidates are challenging, your voice will be as compromised as the candidates' who were chosen to secure your vote. That's why many political scientists don't consider Top Two a true open primary.

3. All state-wide non-partisan primaries in which only the top two vote recipients advance to the general (or run-off) election are called Louisiana-style primaries, because Louisiana was the first State in the U.S. to adopt this form of nomination state-wide. If you don't think Arizona's Top Two primary fits this definition, please tell us how you think it differs. (This is confusing because local elections often call the first tier Municipal or School Board or County Elections and the second tier just Run-offs.)

4. I'm not sure what the length of time Arizonans have been voting a local version of Top Two has to do with its viability. Arizonans were also voting state-wide closed primaries until 1998 or 2000. Are you saying that all local elections in Arizona (except Tucson) are models of moderation, efficiency, and transparency? (Don't say that anywhere near Mayor Von Gausig. He's pushing for Instant Run-off, and if you have an hour or so, he'll be glad to tell you why.) Or are you saying political machines revolving around one incumbent are better than vying parties pushing platforms? That's what Los Angeles has had for longer than Phoenix has been in existence.

Basically, I don't think you can take the politics out of politics. And tell me, how exactly do you think a Top Two open primary would have improved the current District 2 Supervisor's race?

Posted: Friday, October 5, 2012
Article comment by: Ted Downing

The Open Primary or Top 2 Initiative is about something more fundamental than voter turnout. It is about given ALL voters the right to select the top 2 candidates in the general, not a small group from political parties. In America, it is one person one vote, NOT one party one vote.

And before using incorrect summaries of Louisiana (different system) or California, please note that Arizonans have been voting in primary election just like proposed change for ONE HUNDRED years - in their municipal and school board elections (except Tucson).

Posted: Friday, October 5, 2012
Article comment by: itsy bitsy Spider

I can see why Secretaries of State might prefer open primaries, Mr. Hearn. But WHY TOP TWO? Why the system with the worst track record in the U.S.?

I admit Arizona's semi-open primary gives independents more clout in Republican and Democratic races than they think we deserve. I wouldn't be jumping up and down, however, if the "reform" was Instant Run-off or Ranked Choice Voting. They're fair, much less expensive--and easier on both voters and County Recorders. Top Two is not. It's a system created by politicians for politicians.

Posted: Friday, October 5, 2012
Article comment by: nutso fasst

"They know I do my homework…"

They're clearly missing something. But then, so are a lot of folks who rely on a 'trusted source' to make their decisions for them.

Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Article comment by: Maybe I missed something

Oh and hey, there are FOUR votes here, my family listens to what I have to say!

They know I do my homework and discuss it with them so they don't have to.

Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Article comment by: Maybe I missed something

I was going to vote "no" on this one. But if Jim Barber is against it, then I am changing my vote to a "yes."

Thanks Jim for being as informative as ever and helping me to make up my mind.

By the way, I never ever read your stuff, but obviously you come up in other people's stuff!

Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Article comment by: Slater Slater

Being an independant I'll vote in the negative.

Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Article comment by: nutso fasst

Let's all vote based on false claims and Barber contrarianism. That'll get us the government we deserve.

Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Article comment by: Johnny Johnson

If Jim Barber is against it, it's a safe bet it's a good prop. Yep yep, I'll be casting my vote for this prop. Actually I get two votes - my wife votes for whatever I ask. Wonderful woman - hates politics.

Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Article comment by: YES for 121 ....

YES for 121 will change the primary process.

1. All will have equal access to be on the ballot.

2. All voters will have equal access to cast all

3. Political parties will still hold their own
conventions/caucuses...even their own
signature gathering events.

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