Now that Virginia is set for a March 1 presidential primary, a new scramble starts — to qualify for the ballot in this vital swing state. Newly official presidential candidates Jim Webb and Chris Christie and the 20 other 2016 hopefuls will have to amass 5,000 valid signatures — at least 200 in each of the state’s 11 congressional districts — to make the Virginia ballot. State lawmakers cut the signature requirement in half after the 2012 debacle in which only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas qualified for Virginia’s Republican primary.
When California voters decided to change the way the state’s primary elections work, the move was cast as an effort to moderate a state Capitol gripped by polarization. If the top two vote-getters in a primary faced off against one another in November regardless of their party affiliation, the reasoning went, hard-nosed politicians who typically put party purity above all else would be forced to court less partisan voters. That could mean more centrists elected to office, more political compromise and better governance. But with the approach of only the second election since the enactment of the “jungle” primary — the first featuring candidates for statewide office — some argue that the change has had a decidedly undemocratic effect, muzzling the voices of small-party candidates. The Green Party, the American Independent Party and other minor groups will now rarely — if ever — appear on the general election ballot, even though they represent 1.2 million people. And they could eventually find themselves out of existence in California, the critics fear. “It’s just a violation of voting rights,” said Richard Winger, a Libertarian and publisher of the San Francisco-based Ballot Access News. “Because the right to vote includes the right of the choice.”
Republican legislators and political activists in several red states are taking steps to make it harder for minor party candidates to make the ballot after a string of elections Democrats won with less than 50 percent of the vote. The Ohio legislature voted earlier this week to require minor parties to collect signatures of 1 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial or presidential election. Libertarians and Green Party members complain that the rule — which would require them to gather about 56,000 signatures to make the 2014 ballot — sets an impossibly high standard. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed legislation earlier this year to require candidates running for Congress to collect enough signatures to represent one-third of 1 percent of registered voters in their respective districts. That’s a 40-fold increase in the number of signatures Libertarian Party candidates would have to collect.
California State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Ventura County) have introduced identical proposed state constitutional amendments that would change the top-two open primary section of the California Constitution. Lara’s bill is SCA 12 and Gorell’s is ACA 9. Article II, section 5 of the California Constitution includes the new primary rules, which say that the two candidates who get the most votes in the primary, for Congress or partisan state office, go on the November ballot. The Lara-Gorell amendment would change the language of this section to say that if the person who came in second in a primary is a write-in candidate, he or she could not be on the November ballot unless he or she received approximately 120,000 write-ins for a statewide office, 3,200 write-ins for State Senate, 1,600 write-ins for Assembly, or 2,500 write-ins for a congressional race. The specific formula is one percent of the last general election vote total for that office.
Prop 14, the initiative to put in place California’s new top-two primary system, was backed by business interests and rich folks, such as Charles Munger Jr. This year, as it is being used for the first time in a California election cycle, it has so far been a bust — except for adding considerably to the nastiness and expense of campaigns. A small group of less-than-wealthy citizens — many of them longtime supporters of minor political parties — has gone to the courts to challenge Prop 14, on multiple grounds. Among their objections are that the top-two primary limits the rights of people who would choose to vote for minor political parties (since they no longer appear on the general election ballot) and also excludes write-ins. … But the citizens lost their challenge in court, with judges finding that the top-two primary law was valid and constitutional. But unfortunately for these citizen-challengers, that’s not the end of the story.