Democrats Alter Process for Primary

Times Political Writer

With the California presidential primary now exactly one year away, Democrats acted on Saturday to streamline voting procedures and more equally divide up the state's largest-in-the-nation pool of delegates according to how candidates finish in the balloting.

The party's 169-member executive board, meeting in Anaheim, abandoned the controversial election process of 1984, in which Democrats did not vote directly for presidential candidates. In that primary, Democratic voters in each of the state's 45 congressional districts were asked to vote for local slates of delegates rather than the candidates themselves.

Cluttered Ballot

This meant a ballot cluttered with names of obscure delegates. And it resulted in a skewed outcome: A candidate whose slate got a bare majority in a congressional district was awarded all the delegates, and the loser, even if it was a close race, got nothing. As a result, former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart was supported by 40% of the voters, but was awarded two-thirds of the delegates over second- and third-place finishers Walter F. Mondale and Jesse Jackson.

Under the revised plan adopted by party leaders on Saturday, the names of the Democratic presidential candidates will appear alone on the ballot. In each of the 45 congressional districts, delegates will be divided up according to the order of finish of the candidates in that district. The delegates will be selected in each district by supporters of the candidates.

The plan was championed most vigorously by black and other ethnic minorities who argued that it was both simple and fair to all contenders.

A rival scheme sought by representatives of some candidates, including Sen. Joseph Biden and Rep. Richard Gephardt, was defeated narrowly. This was a more complicated process that would have awarded a "bonus" delegate to the first-place finisher in each of the congressional districts. Backers of the idea said the bonus would serve as an incentive for candidates to spread out their campaigns and spend more time in California.

The Democratic primary election plan now goes to the state Legislature. Party Chairman Peter D. Kelly said: "I think the Legislature is prepared to go along with what we do here today."

Republicans face no such allocation decisions in their presidential primary. Party spokesmen said the winner of the GOP balloting will be awarded all of the huge California convention delegation, just as in past elections.

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