SACRAMENTO — California Democrats would vote directly for their party's presidential primary candidates, rather than a welter of presidential delegate slates this June, under a bill given final passage by the Assembly on Monday.
The measure stipulates that the number of delegates a candidate is awarded in each of the state's 45 congressional districts will be determined by the percentage of the popular vote he receives. The individual delegates would be selected at caucuses open to Democrats pledged to the various candidates.
The bill, which passed the lower house with no opposition or debate, is intended to simplify the June 7 ballot and insure that the number of delegates a presidential contender receives is proportional to the popular vote. It was sent to Gov. George Deukmejian, who has not taken an official position but is expected to sign it.
The state's Democrats will select 336 delegates and 105 alternates to the party's national convention in Atlanta, the largest delegation in the country and 8% of the 4,160 delegates chosen nationwide.
The proposed ballot change reflects the state Democratic establishment's dissatisfaction with the process employed in 1984, when Democrats voted for individual delegate candidates pledged to contenders for the party's presidential nomination. The delegate candidates who received the most votes in each congressional district went to the national convention.
This resulted in Gary Hart winning a disproportionate share of delegates at the expense of his primary opponents, Walter F. Mondale and Jesse Jackson, critics of the system said. Hart won 205 delegates, Mondale 72 and Jackson 29, even though the vote totals statewide were more evenly divided (Hart 40%, Mondale 36% and Jackson 19%). The reason for the disparity was that the 1984 delegate selection plan allowed Hart to win all of a district's delegates with a mere plurality.
Furthermore, party officials received complaints from county clerks who had to painstakingly tabulate votes cast for as many as 30 presidential delegate candidates in a single congressional district, said Terrence J. Reardon, administrative assistant to Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno), the bill's sponsor.
The proposal sent to Deukmejian Monday is similar to the delegate selection plan used in the 1980 Democratic primary election. One difference is that the 1988 ballot would only include the names of the presidential candidates and not the names of individual delegate candidates.
The Senate, which passed the bill 27 to 9 on Jan. 28, amended it to require that Democratic voters be given a list of the names of delegate candidates for each presidential contender at the polls on Election Day or by mail with absentee ballots.
The plan, which was endorsed by the State Democratic Central Committee last month, calls for an even mix of men and women in the California delegation. The district delegates would also select 68 at-large delegates and 37 alternates. If the number of minority delegates chosen as a result of the June 7 vote is not comparable to their representation among Democratic voters, the delegates would be required to correct the imbalance by filling some of these at-large and alternate posts with blacks, Latinos and Asians. No presidential candidate who receives less than 15% of the statewide vote would receive any delegates under the Democratic proposal.
Republicans select their delegates through a simple winner-take-all process that will award the state's 175 GOP delegates to the presidential candidate who wins a plurality of the popular vote in June. California Republicans will also account for 8% of the 2,277 delegates to the party's national convention in New Orleans.
The California Republican Party has no plans to seek any changes in its presidential primary process, party spokesman Joe Irvin said.