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Open primary proposal takes center stage

February 19, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The open primary proposal may have been the key issue that sealed the state's compromise deal. However, it is causing a lot of anxiety in both parties. It could lead to a profound fundamental change in California's election system.

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An open primary system could potentially strip a lot of power from political parties and that's why they'll be doing everything they can to defeat the proposal.

"I don't want anything for me or my district. I want government reform," said Senator Abel Maldonado (R).

Senator Maldonado made it clear from the beginning of the week that an open primary would get him to support the budget. He got what he wanted, but leaders of both parties hate the idea.

"From the moderate sides of both of these parties there's always this hope and belief of a holy grail, that by having an open primary it's going to put more moderates in office and we won't have these long budget delays. I just think that's just a fallacy," says Sean Walsh, a GOP consultant.

The way it is right now, California voters must choose one political party's ballot in a primary. Democratic candidates are found on the Democratic ballot and Republican candidates are found on the Republican ballot. The top vote-getter from each party faces off in the general election.

However, in an open primary there would no longer be party ballots. Instead, Democrats and Republicans would run in the same primary, with the top two, regardless of their party, facing off in the general election.

While Senator Maldonado calls it government reform, others call it a power grab. Political experts say an open primary is the only way a Republican moderate like Maldonado could win statewide office.

"His argument is 'If we go into a race where everyone can vote for a candidates on the ballot, I might convince some Democrats to vote for me in the primary race, I might convince some Independents to vote for me in the primary race and I may end up winning,' becoming the second highest vote getter," says Professor Corey Cook, Ph.D., from the University of San Francisco Department of Politics.

There is no doubt political parties will be pouring vast resources into defeating the open primary proposal.

Oakland Assemblyman Sandre Swanson (D) says our democracy is at stake.

"People have a right to associate with like-minded people in their political party and nominate. This initiative would take away the right of a political party to nominate candidates," says Swanson.

This issue will go before voters in June 2010, which leaves plenty of time to educate the public and for political parties to raise money in hopes of defeating it.

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