They’ve been a colorful part of California’s political landscape for decades — Greens, Libertarians, American Independents and members of the Peace and Freedom Party. But after Tuesday’s election, most of them will be all but invisible — and perhaps on their way to extinction. In past years, minor parties held their own primary elections to choose nominees who would go on to compete with Democratic and Republican nominees in general elections. But that’s no longer the case under California’s new “top two” primary system, in which all voters choose from among all candidates of all parties — and only the two candidates who get the most votes advance to November, regardless of party. Because minor party candidates rarely finish in the top two, and it’s now harder for their candidates to get on the primary ballot in the first place, the parties will have little or no presence on the general-election ballot. And in politics, invisibility means oblivion. “It could spell the end of the Peace and Freedom Party,” said party chairman C.T. Weber, 71, of Sacramento. “It’s a shame that democracy is being undermined by this, but that’s the reality if we’re not able to overturn the law.”
The law was set in place with Proposition 14 in June 2010, approved by 54 percent of voters after then-state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, forced the Legislature’s Democratic majority to put it on the ballot in exchange for his budget vote. Though minor parties complained from the get-go that they would be marginalized if not obliterated by the measure, voters liked the measure’s stated purpose: increasing primary voters’ choices in an effort to moderate the harsh political partisanship plaguing Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
Maldonado argued recently that minor parties will get more exposure in the new top-two primary and “if they represent the views of a significant number of voters in a district, they’ll be in the top two. … I don’t care what party you’re from, if you have a message that resonates with the people, they’re going to vote for you.” But minor-party officials contend that giving voters only two choices in November — with no write-in votes allowed — denies parties an opportunity to spread their messages and hobbles their ability to field candidates in the future. “It’s not a good situation,” in part because it’s a lot harder to recruit candidates, said Kevin Takenaga, chairman of the Libertarian Party of California.