Monday, July 15, 2019




          With California’s March presidential primary less than eight months off, herds of candidates arrive in the state regularly, seeking both votes and campaign cash.

          But one often unspoken question remains about that vote, which will look very different from most other primaries in this state: Why should people who declare themselves independent, no party preference (NPP) voters pay for a primary where they can’t vote for anyone they please?

          This question arises because state government – that’s us, the taxpayers – foots all the bills for these elections. That includes the 26 percent or so of all voters who are NPP. When primaries involve California offices, state or local, any registered voter can cast a ballot for any candidate listed for a particular office. But it doesn’t work that way in presidential primaries.

          Only Republicans can vote for GOP candidates for president next March. And while anyone who wants to can vote for Democratic presidential candidates next spring, NPP voters must first request a Democratic ballot. For those planning to vote by mail, this means sending a postcard to the local registrar of voters with the request, and all but declaring themselves Democrats.

          Those policies are set not by the state, but by the national political parties. Unfortunately, no one thought of these wrinkles back in 2010, when Proposition 10 passed handily and created the Top Two “jungle primary,” where the two leading primary vote-getters get spots in November runoffs for state offices, regardless of their party.

          State legislators have known the rules for almost a decade and chosen not to confront the national parties. That could risk a confrontation which might reduce California’s role in presidential candidate selection.

          As it stands, almost one-fourth of Californians now have a limited role because of exclusionary national party rules. No one really knows how a confrontation might turn out in the future, whether Californians or the national parties would blink first. But it’s pretty unlikely such a conflict would ever lead to there being no presidential primary here at all.

          Since California sets just about all its own election rules except those for presidential primaries, why not test this? Gov. Gavin Newsom has shown plenty of daring since he took office last January, on everything from housing problems to the death penalty. Why not take the lead on enfranchising the huge chunk of California voters (more than the total voters in all but eight other states) who may not now be able to vote for the presidential candidate they like best?

          And why should all Californians, including both Democrats and NPPs, foot the bill for the 23 percent of state voters now registered Republican to cast their votes? Why not have each political party pay for primaries not run according to state rules?

          Those questions won’t get substantial answers before the March vote, in which California might have more influence over eventual presidential choices than it has since the early 1970s.

          But some NPP registrants are already thinking four-plus years ahead, to the next time these issues arise.

          Some advocate a state law giving independent voters their own ballot, listing every presidential candidate. This won’t happen, because providing an open ballot to a quarter of the voters leaves them with more options than the majority would have. It would be unequal.

          There’s also the problem of the national parties possibly refusing to recognize ballots cast that way.

          The result is today’s situation, a mess created by the two major parties’ insistence on exclusivity financed largely by voters belonging to other parties, or none.

          “I don’t agree that a voter’s rights should be subject to party rules,” tweeted Chad Peace, a leading spokesman for NPPs. “We can’t control party rules, but we can write laws to maximize voter rights.”

          Do that, and you get a state confrontation with both national parties and their long records of opposing open voting in California. Which means this state’s primaries will remain essentially unfair until the state’s politicians rouse the courage to risk doing something about it.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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