Four political parties in Ventura County are opposed to an upcoming statewide ballot measure that would allow the top two vote winners in a primary race, regardless of their party affiliation, to compete against one another in the general election.

Democrats, Republicans and other local independent groups say that Proposition 14, the Top Two Primaries Act, blurs party lines and encourages infighting among people of the same political preference.

Supporters of Prop. 14 say that by grouping together members of each and every party seeking a nomination, it reduces extreme partisanship and allows voters to choose candidates for their strengths, not their political preferences.
During primaries in June, under the current electoral system, Democrats can only vote for Democratic candidates, Republicans can only vote for Republicans, and so on, to qualify for a place on the November general ballot. If Prop. 14 is to pass, all candidates in a primary election would be grouped together on one large ballot, allowing, for example, a member of the Green Party to vote for a Republican, or a Republican to vote for a Democrat.

The end result could potentially see two members of the same political party facing off together in a major election for any political seat.

Members of parties across the political spectrum in Ventura County are in accord that open primaries are a bad idea all around.

“It denies political parties their right to free association,” says Brian Leshon, chair of the Ventura County Democratic Central Committee. With the passage of Prop. 14, he said, “A Democrat is not identified with a Democrat. If this (ballot) goes forward, none of those designations will go on the ballot.”

Leshon says that the proposition poses a very great danger of forcing political hopefuls to spend huge amounts of money to fight other members of their own party. It also reduces choices for voters because the top two vote getters, he said, could both be Democrats similar in opinions or on issues.

“That starts to cannibalize each other,” he says. “It looks good on paper, but if the top two candidates don’t represent the different views of the community, that’s a mistake.”

Mike Osborn, chair of the Ventura County Republican Central Committee, agrees. In primary elections, he notes, there needs to be a clear distinction between party affiliations or else some candidates could be overlooked.

“We think that it was badly crafted and will result in a narrowing of choices,” he says.

If Prop. 14 poses large negative impacts to Democrats and Republicans, Osborn feels that other parties, like Greens, Libertarians, Independents or other fringe groups, will suffer even worse, candidates from those parties potentially getting lost in the shuffle on one big ballot.

“They’ll just become irrelevant,” Osborn said. “The qualified parties at least get a place on the ballot and a seat at the table. They won’t have that.”

“We are diametrically opposed” to the ballot measure, said Kendra Gonzalez, a member of the Ventura County Green Party. “If people think the two-party system is way too strong and not enough voice, Prop. 14 would certainly make that more so. It would be the end of third parties as we know it.”

Kate O’Brien says normal campaigning culture already makes it difficult for Libertarians — of which O’Brien is a member, in the Ventura County branch — to get nominated for a general election ballot.

“We’re already hampered by gerrymandered districts and campaign finance law, all over the country,” she said. “Those things really damage our chances of getting on the ballot.”

“It would also hurt somebody who wasn’t a member of a party. It favors the two dominant parties,” says Dr. Herb Gooch, a political science professor at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

Supporters of Proposition 14 in Ventura County could not be reached for comment by deadline. Amanda Fulkerson, a spokeswoman for the Yes on Prop. 14 campaign, rebutted the opinions of the proposition’s opponents.

“Their rhetoric is completely false,” she said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado both support Prop. 14. Schwarzenegger, it was reported this week, received a $1 million donation from film producer Jerry Perenchio, to help push the measure.

Gooch, who doesn’t take a stance on the measure, says that while Prop. 14 could result in parties losing a bit of their identities if candidates are classified together on one ballot, it could also achieve the opposite effect: broadening the voices of politicians to reach more undecided voters.

“It should have, ideally, the effect of making candidates speak, and be popular with, a larger segment of the population than the extremes of both parties,” Gooch said.

Prop. 14 follows closely Proposition 62, a 2004 state ballot measure, which also proposed allowing voters to choose candidates outside their own political parties. Californians were nearly split down the middle, but Prop. 62 still narrowly failed, 54 percent to 46 percent.