Proposition 14 Puts Primaries Shakeup on California Ballot

The June 8 primary election in California could be the last of its kind, as a ballot initiative seeks to dramatically change the electoral process, opening the possibility of general election contests limited to two members of the same party.

Proposition 14 would replace party primaries with a "top-two" election structure for congressional, statewide and state legislative elections. All candidates would be included in a single primary election open to all voters, regardless of party registration. Candidates would have the option to declare a party preference or appear on the ballot with no affiliation.

The two candidates with the highest vote totals in the primary would then advance to a general election. Write-in votes would be ignored. The November ballot thus could feature two members of the same party as the only options.

As the election approaches, all of California's six ballot-eligible political parties, the state's ACLU groups, and many state labor unions have lined up against Proposition 14, while business groups, the California AARP, and a majority of the state's major newspapers have endorsed the measure.

The most prominent backer of the proposition is Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has raised money for the measure and cites the current Republican gubernatorial primary between Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner as emblematic of the type of primary partisanship that would be eliminated under the proposed system.

Supporters believe the initiative would lead to more moderate elected officials and alleviate the gridlock that has characterized the state's politics in recent years.

Proposition 14 is the brainchild of Republican Abel Maldonado, a former state senator who recently was confirmed as the state's new lieutenant governor.

Proposition 14 is "a huge game changer in California," Maldonado told ABC News. "It makes the politicians in Sacramento accountable to the people."

Last year, Maldonado joined with Democrats to end the state's budget crisis. As part of the compromise deal that secured Maldonado's vote, the legislature voted to put Proposition 14 on the ballot.

Opponents allege Maldonado demanded the measure for his own political benefit.

"Maldonado wants it to pass because it will help him to get reelected in the future. ... It's his ego," said Christina Tobin, chairman of Stoptoptwo.org and a Libertarian candidate for secretary of state.

Maldonado rejected the claim and said he demanded the proposition because, "I was not prepared to put new money into a broken system."

By doing away with party primaries, proponents argue the initiative would combat the partisan polarization demonstrated in the budget debate and benefit candidates willing to reach across party lines.

A poll released May 19 by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found strong support for the proposition, with 60 percent of voters in favor, 27 percent opposed, and 13 percent undecided.

Proponent groups' fundraising dramatically has outpaced that of opponents, with late May numbers from the California secretary of state's office showing a margin of approximately $ 4 million to approximately $200,000.

Similar Measure Failed in 2004

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