Prop. 198, for the Sake of Political Moderation : Measure on primary elections would resist extremism

Proposition 198, the March 26 ballot's Open Primary Initiative, offers Californians the chance to choose elected officials who will be more responsive to the needs and more respectful of the views of the majority of their constituents. It would do so by removing party registration as a condition for voting in partisan primary elections.

All voters, including the 1.5 million who have registered as independents and thus cannot vote in partisan primaries, would be free to vote in a primary for the candidates of their choice, regardless of party. The highest vote-getter in each party would win a spot on the general election ballot. A likely effect would be to lessen the odds that candidates representing the extremes of one or both of the two major parties would be chosen to run in the general election. In other words, successful candidates in an open primary would in almost every case have to appeal to a broader segment of voters than is now the case. That should boost the cause of greater moderation in California politics.

In California and 19 other states with closed primaries, voters must register in advance to participate in partisan elections. Twenty-nine states permit voters to express their party preference on election day. Two states--Alaska and Washington--provide voters with a single ballot listing all candidates and their party affiliation, and voters may select one in each race. This is the model for the California Open Primary Initiative.

The Republican and Democratic state chairmen have opposed 198, for reasons that Californians concerned about the current mess in our political culture can understand though hardly endorse. Thanks to the way politicians in Sacramento draw voting district lines to serve their own interests, about two-thirds of legislative and congressional districts are regarded as safe for one or the other major party. That usually assures each party, even in years when it's in the minority, significant representation in Sacramento and Washington. It also all but guarantees the election of some candidates representing one or another ideological extreme, making the cooperation and compromise on which effective government is based more difficult.

The ugly and often absurd recent history of legislative deadlock in Sacramento and the notorious inability of California's congressional delegation to put aside differences in the overall interests of the state are two good reasons for adopting a system that holds some promise of producing candidates who would be more representative of the entire electorate. Proposition 198 is by no means the whole answer to getting better candidates. But at a minimum, we think, it would shake up a system that has so often left voters in general elections with too many unhappy choices among ideologically unpalatable candidates. We recommend a yes vote on Proposition 198, in the expectation that it will contribute to positive political change in California.

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