Primaries in California
California primary election law has a complex history. The direct primary first became law in 1909 as a progressive era reform. The legislation created a closed primary system in which registered voters of a particular party received only the ballot of that party. Registered voters who declined to state a party preference received a ballot containing only non-partisan offices. In 1913, in a further progressive era reform, cross filing was instituted.
Cross filing permitted a candidate to appear on more than one party ballot for the same office, and to become the nominee of more than one party. Cross filing was eliminated in 1959.
The next big change in primary election law occurred in 1996 with the passage of Proposition 198 in the March primary. Called the "Open Primary Initiative," Proposition 198 created a blanket primary for California. The blanket primary permitted all voters, both registered partisans and "declined to state" independents, to choose among all the the candidates on the primary ballot, irrespective of party affiliation. The intent was to encourage political participation and to promote the selection of centrist candidates who would need to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters to win.
The blanket primary system was in effect for the primary elections of June 1998 and March 2000. In June 2000 the United States Supreme Court declared Proposition 198 unconstitutional. In California Democratic Party v. Jones, the high court invoked the First Amendment right of association and ruled that political parties in California have a constitutional right to exclude nonparty members in primary elections.
In September 2000, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision, California enacted SB28 (Ch. 898, Stats. 2000), which established a modified closed primary. Under SB28, registered voters of a particular party receive only the ballot of that party, as was the case with California's earlier closed primary law. However, unaffiliated ("decline to state") voters may choose a party ballot, but only if the party has authorized unaffiliated voters to participate in its primary.
In November 2004 two competing primary election measures appeared on the ballot, Propositions 60 and 62. Proposition 62 was placed on the ballot in an initiative campaign led by a coalition of corporations, business executives and politicians. It attempted to restore a version of the blanket primary in which the top two vote-getters would always appear on the general election ballot. Proposition 60 (SCA18) was placed on the ballot by the legislature in June 2004 to counter Proposition 62. With the defeat of Proposition 62 and the passage of Proposition 60, the modified closed primary system was preserved.
Proposition 14 (2010)
The substance of Proposition 14 was proposed to the Legislature by Sen. Abel Maldonado in 2009 as an amendment to SCA4. The Senate and Assembly passed SCA4 in exchange for Sen. Maldonado's decisive vote to pass the budget.
If the measure is approved, it would take effect for the 2012 elections. Congressional and state races would be conducted in much the same way that nonpartisan city, county and school district elections have been conducted in California. It would not affect presidential primary elections.
Proposition 14 would require that candidates run in a single primary open to all registered voters with the top two vote-getters meeting in a runoff. Voters could vote in the primary election for any candidate in the race. Furthermore, candidates could choose to not feature their political party affiliation on the ballot.
Proposition 14 would amend a provision passed by Proposition 60 (2004) that currently states that any political party that participated in a primary election for a partisan office 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. If Proposition 14 passes, this provision will be amended to deny this right for any candidates except the top two vote-getters.