The unintended consequences of Proposition 14

Did California voters just strike a blow for governmental ‘moderation,’ or was Tuesday’s successful passage of Proposition 14 an early Christmas gift for lobbyists and big name, big money candidates?

The new system will put candidates of all political stripes on a single ballot, and all voters will be able to participate. The top two vote-getters in a given contest — regardless of political affiliation — will advance to the general election. Supporters say that once the system is in place and voting districts have been redrawn outside of the Legislature, candidates will have no choice but to move to the middle as they compete for voters who are more politically diverse.

That’s the theory, at least. But as with all government interventions, this will come with its own unintended consequences. Of course, unintended doesn’t mean unforeseen:

[Critics] say it could push California back to the days when candidates were picked by party bosses in smoke-filled rooms and send the cost of campaigns sky-high, giving special interests more power and wealthy candidates more of an advantage. The new system could even further disenfranchise candidates who are trying to break free of the special interests that have a grip on government, they say….

The new process could also disenfranchise candidates from smaller political parties, so those groups are weighing a possible court challenge, said Cres Vellucci, a spokesman for the Green Party of California.

When Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Socialists, and the Green Party all agree that a proposition is bad news for the state, I’d be very careful in dismissing their concerns.


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Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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