Today's primary election in California will be the last of its kind, with the passing of a ballot initiative that will dramatically change the electoral process and open 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.
All of California's six ballot-eligible political parties, the state's ACLU groups, and many state labor unions lined up against Proposition 14, while business groups, the California AARP, and a majority of the state's major newspapers endorsed the measure.
The most prominent backer of the proposition was Schwarzenegger. He raised money for the measure and cited the gubernatorial primary battle between Whitman and Poizner as emblematic of the type of primary partisanship that would be eliminated under the proposed system.
Supporters said the initiative would lead to more moderate elected officials and alleviate the gridlock that has characterized the state's politics in recent years. Some raised concerns over the lack of a way to replace candidates on the general election ballot under the proposed system. The two candidates with the highest vote totals in the primaries would appear on the November ballot unless one of them were to die, in which case the third-leading primary candidate would take the open spot.
Proponent groups' fundraising dramatically 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.