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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / PROPOSITION
3

Measure Would Bring Back Party System for Presidential Choices

Primary: Initiative has bipartisan backing. Supporters say that without it, voters might be shut out of participating in 2000's top race.

November 01, 1998|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — California voters, who launched a blanket primary last spring, will be asked Nov. 3 to make an exception for presidential elections.

Proposition 3, supported by the Republican and Democratic parties, would once again require that presidential delegates from California be elected only by members of their own party.

The measure would apply only to voting for delegates pledged to presidential candidates. Balloting in other races, such as those for governor, U.S. senator, Congress or the state Legislature, would remain open to all registered voters.

Proposition 3 would amend 1996's Proposition 198, which created a wide-open, or blanket, primary election system. Under that measure, any registered voter can cast a ballot in any major partisan race, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof.

But Democratic and GOP officials say an "unintended" drafting error in Proposition 198 puts California voters at risk of being shut out of participating in the 2000 presidential primary.

They contend that California's blanket system conflicts with the national rules of both parties, which require that only party members participate in presidential primaries or choose the party's national convention delegates.

They say federal case law is on their side, citing a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of national parties to set their own delegate seating rules, even if the rules conflict with state laws.

Spokesmen for the Democratic and Republican national committees said that if Proposition 3 is defeated, the parties will seek alternative ways to choose delegates, including closed caucuses or party conventions.

"The California [primary] would be just a beauty contest, and the results would not include the delegate selection for the [national] convention," said Rick Boylan, director of party affairs and delegate selection for the national Democratic Party.

Mike Collins, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, agreed. "It would be our position they could not be seated. For them to be seated at the convention, they would have to be selected in a manner that would preclude [a blanket] primary process."

The March 7, 2000, presidential primary is regarded as particularly important for California. Under newly enacted legislation, the state's primary will advance from one of the last in the nation to one of the first.

In theory, this will give voters in the most populous state political clout that they haven't had for at least three decades.

In ballot arguments favoring Proposition 3, legislative leaders of both parties warn voters against surrendering their power to help choose the next presidential nominees.

Unless the measure is approved, they say, California voters will be barred from selecting their parties' presidential delegates "even though voters from the other 49 states will participate."

But Assemblyman Jack Scott (D-Altadena), one of a handful of lawmakers who voted against the measure in the Legislature, says such warnings are overblown.

Scott notes that California will send the biggest delegations to the national conventions in 2000. He says both parties have "mechanisms in their rules to allow for California delegates to be seated."

"The national political party bosses are not going to frustrate the voters of California by refusing to honor their vote," Scott says in a ballot pamphlet argument.

Democratic Party rules allow for selection of presidential delegates in certain open primaries, including those of Wisconsin and Montana.

But California's blanket primary, implemented in June, doesn't qualify, said Boylan of the Democratic National Committee. "Our rule says that any state that has had a closed process . . . cannot move to open their process to members of other parties."

For both the Republican and Democratic parties, Proposition 3 is another episode in the fight over Proposition 198. Both parties opposed it in 1996 as an unconstitutional interference with their right to decide who can participate in their own nominating process.

Even so, 60% of the voters approved Proposition 198, creating the most open state primary election system in the country.

The two political parties sued in federal court to throw out Proposition 198 and lost. An appeal is pending in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Other supporters include Gov. Pete Wilson, the California Farm Bureau, the California Federation of Republican Women, former GOP U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Herschensohn and the conservative Traditional Values Coalition.

Except for Scott, Proposition 3 has no formal opposition.

Proposition 3's campaign is a minimal effort. No committees have organized to work for or against it, although a public relations agency said it has an arrangement with the political parties to provide a few news releases on behalf of the measure.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Proposition 3 at a Glance

Proposition 3 would change California's blanket primary law to require that only members of a political party be allowed to vote in their parties' elections of presidential delegates.

Arguments for: Enables party members to elect their own presidential delegations without interference from members of other parties or independent voters. Ensures that elected California delegates would be seated at their national conventions in 2000.

Arguments against: The blanket primary law should be allowed to work as voters intended when they approved Proposition 198 in 1996. Proposition 3 is an effort by "power brokers" to reverse the voters' action.

Supporters: Democratic and Republican parties, Gov. Pete Wilson, legislative leaders of both parties, California Farm Bureau and Traditional Values Coalition.

Opponents: No organized campaign. Assemblyman Jack Scott (D-Altadena) wrote the ballot argument against Proposition 3.

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