Soapbox

Why is California making it so hard to get on the ballot?

Voters wait in line at City Hall in San Francisco for the June 2016 primary. The Green Party is opposing a bill that it says will make even tougher for minor party candidates to get on the ballot.
Voters wait in line at City Hall in San Francisco for the June 2016 primary. The Green Party is opposing a bill that it says will make even tougher for minor party candidates to get on the ballot. Associated Press file

California deserves full political representation, where all voters can help elect someone who truly represents their views. But changes in state law have taken us further from that goal.

“Top two” elections in place since 2012 limit voters to only two general election choices – sometimes both Democrats or both Republicans – while eliminating other parties from the ballot. The “top two” system has also made it harder to get on the primary ballot for candidates from minor parties, by increasing the number of signatures required to avoid an expensive filing fee. From 1992 to 2010, the Green, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom, and American Independent parties averaged a total of 127 primary candidates each year. By 2016, only 13 candidates from four parties qualified.

Assembly Bill 469 would make it even harder, by reducing the time to gather signatures from 70 days to 40 without cutting the number required proportionately. This would increase the role of money in politics by favoring even more those candidates who can afford to pay to play and by hurting grass-roots candidates who need time to build their campaigns.

AB 469, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, an Elk Grove Democrat, has passed the Assembly and is scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the Senate Elections Committee.

Supporters argue that existing law is confusing because if candidates hand in enough valid signatures within 55 days, they qualify for the ballot, but if not enough are valid, they get until Day 70 to gather supplemental signatures. If this is really too confusing, why not simply eliminate the supplemental signature option and give candidates the entire 70 days?

Full representation of California voters is most likely to come from multi-seat legislative districts with proportional representation. By contrast, the top two system already greatly restricts voter choice.

The Legislature should not suppress ballot access even further by approving AB 469.

Michael Feinstein is a co-founder of the Green Party of California and a former mayor and city council member in Santa Monica. He can be contacted at mfeinstein@feinstein.org.

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