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September 6, 2001
Contact: Gail L. Pellerin, Elections Manager

Dear Editor,

I offer the following Op-Ed piece for publication. Thank you.


A Primary Concern

By Richard W. Bedal, Santa Cruz County Clerk

There’s a new Primary Election system in California. And, since it’s the beginning of the school season, I thought it would be a good time to begin the voter education process.

Like many subjects, however, we first need to look at the history of California’s Primary.

Prior to June 1998, California had a "closed" primary. In a "closed" Primary, voters who are registered with a qualified political party vote a ballot with only that party’s candidates for partisan offices. Partisan offices include U.S. President, Senate, House of Representatives, the State Senate and Assembly, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, etc.

The ballot also contained what is considered the "nonpartisan" contests, such as judges, county supervisors, county department heads, as well as local and state propositions.

Any voter who was not affiliated with a qualified political party would receive a ballot with only the nonpartisan contests. These "nonpartisan" voters include voters who are registered:

"declined to state," "independent," "nonpartisan," or

with any political party attempting to qualify, such as the "Vision," "Free," and "Islamic Political Party of America," who are attempting to qualify for the March 2002 primary, or

with formerly qualified parties that have been disqualified, such as the "Peace and Freedom Party," or

with any other creative party voters write on their affidavit of registration such as "The Birthday Party."

On March 26, 1996, voters passed Proposition 198 that established a "blanket" primary in California. Under a "blanket" primary, every voter regardless of political party affiliation or unaffiliation is eligible to vote on any candidate for federal and state partisan offices. This is the Primary system California had in effect at the June 1998 Gubernatorial Primary and March 2000 Presidential Primary elections.

On June 26, 2000, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in California Democratic Party, et. al. v. Jones, stating that California's "blanket" primary system, established by Proposition 198, was unconstitutional because it violated a political party's First Amendment right of association. Therefore, the Supreme Court overturned Proposition 198, and California’s Primary was returned to a "closed" Primary system.

A few months after that decision, Governor Gray Davis signed into law SB 28 (Ch. 898, Stats. 2000) that took effect on January 1, 2001. SB 28, authored by Senator Steve Peace, implemented a "modified" closed primary system that permits voters who are not registered with one of the seven qualified political parties (American Independent, Democratic, Green, Libertarian, Natural Law, Reform and Republican) to vote a ballot for that qualified political party if that party has adopted rules allowing voters who are not registered with a qualified political party to vote their ballot. Some parties may decide to allow voters to vote their entire ballot, and others may decide to allow voters to vote for every contest except for that party’s County Central Committee or County Council.

So, for this March 2002 Primary Election, if you are registered with the Democratic Party, you may ONLY vote a ballot containing Democratic candidates running for that party’s nomination to partisan offices. If you are registered with the Republican Party, you may ONLY vote a ballot containing Republican candidates. And, the same goes for the other qualified political parties.

HOWEVER, if you are not affiliated with a qualified political party, you may request and vote a ballot for one of the following political parties who have authorized you to do so: American Independent, Democratic, and Republican. The Green, Libertarian, Natural Law, and Reform parties have not yet authorized others to vote their ballots. Voters may call toll-free, 1-866-DTS-VOTE for the latest information, or visit the county Elections Department’s website at

Unfortunately, this new "modified" closed primary will be difficult to administrate. Our poll workers will be trained on this new system and provided with written guidelines; however, it is complicated and confusing. Our voters who vote-by-mail will have a box to check advising them that if they are not affiliated with a qualified political party they may request the ballot for a political party. Problems will occur, however, when voters request a ballot for a political party that has not authorized "unaffiliated" voters to vote their ballot. Or, if a voter registered with a qualified political party requests a ballot of a different party.

Certainly, determining how many additional ballots to order for each party to accommodate the unknown number of our 22,318 "unaffiliated" voters who will decide to request a party’s ballot is impossible.

Another new law – 15-day voter registration, which shortens what we used to barely accomplish in 29 days to 15 – further complicates California’s new "modified" closed primary. But, I’ll leave that for another article.

For now, I’d like to invite anyone who read and understands the above to serve in our polls on Election Day, March 5, 2002. We will need your expertise.


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