Measures on Primary Election Ballots: California and Maine
Last updated June 10, 2010
In primary elections held Tuesday, June 8, in California and Maine voters in each state were presented with five ballot measures. The 10 included two citizen initiatives in California, a popular referendum in Maine, four bond measures in Maine, and three constitutional amendments referred to the ballot by the California Legislature.
California: Election Measures
California voters saw two election-related measures on the June 8, 2010 primary ballot. Proposition 14 was approved, and will establish a Louisiana-style top-two primary. Voters rejected Proposition 15, which would have created a pilot program offering public financing of campaigns for candidates for secretary of state.
Prop. 14 (approved by 54.2 percent of voters) was referred to the ballot by the Legislature and will change California's primary election system. Under the current primary system, separate ballots are prepared for each political party. Voters select candidates from their own party, and the winning candidates go on to the general election. Parties may allow voters who are not affiliated with a political party to vote in their primary election. This is commonly referred to as a partially-closed primary, and California is one of 15 states that operate this type of primary.
The passage of Proposition 14 will move California to a top-two primary. Just two states -- Louisiana and Washington -- currently use this type of primary. In a top-two primary, all candidates, regardless of their party affiliation, appear on the same ballot. Candidates may add their party preference to their name on the ballot, or may choose not to state a party preference. Voters may vote for any candidate, regardless of both the voter's and candidate's political party affiliation. The two candidates receiving the most votes advance to the general election. It is possible that both candidates may be of the same party, or that one or more may belong to a minor party or have no party affiliation. Partisan primaries would continue to be held for presidential candidates and party offices.
California has experimented with an open primary in the past. In the 1996 primary election, voters approved Proposition 198. It was similar to this year's Proposition 14 in that it placed all candidates on the same primary ballot, regardless of party affiliation, and permitted any voter to vote for any candidate. There was an important difference, however: under the Prop. 198 open primary, the candidate of each political party who received the most votes became the nominee of the party in the general election. Under Prop. 14, party affiliation is not relevant, and the top two candidates, regardless of their party preference, are nominated and advance to the general election. The Prop. 198 open primary was challenged, and in 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court found it unconstitutional on the grounds that it infringed on the rights of association of political parties by allowing non-party members to select party nominees (read the opinion). The opinion left the door open to a system that would not rely on the party affiliation of candidates, like the top-two primary.
In 2004, Proposition 62 proposed a top-two primary very similar to what is proposed in Prop. 14 this year. Prop. 62 was a citizen initiative. A second measure relating to primaries appeared on the same ballot: Proposition 60, referred by the Legislature, asked voters to maintain the closed primary system California adopted after Proposition 198 was found unconstitutional. Voters adopted Prop. 60 and rejected Prop. 62.
Supporters of Proposition 14 argued that voters have greater choice in top-two primary elections, and that independent voters have a voice in nominating candidates that is equal in strength to the voices of party-affiliated voters. They hope that the system will reduce the influence of the two major political parties, and lead to the election of less partisan officials. The chief argument against Prop. 14 is that by limiting the number of general election candidates to two, minor party and independent candidates are less likely to be elected to office.
A recent poll by the Los Angeles Times showed that 52% of California voters favored Proposition 14, while 28% opposed it.
Like Prop. 14, Proposition 15 was referred to the ballot by the Legislature. It was rejected by voters, receiving just 42.5 percent of the vote. Prop. 15 had three main provisions: (1) it would have repealed the current ban on public funding of campaigns, allowing local governments to establish public financing programs; (2) it would have created a voluntary pilot program offering public funding to candidates for secretary of state; and (3) it would have increased registration fees paid by lobbyists in order to fund the pilot program.
Current California law prohibits public funding of campaigns at all levels of government. Charter cities may create public financing programs under current law, and a few have. If voters had agreed to lift the ban, the Legislature and county and local governments would have been able create public financing programs.
Prop. 15 also would have created a pilot project to test-drive public financing at the state level in California. Candidates for secretary of state would be eligible to participate in a full public financing program, in which their campaign is funded in full by a grant from the state. The program would be effective during the 2014 and 2018 campaigns, and would then expire unless the Legislature elected to continue it. The revenue funding the pilot program would come from an increase in lobbyist registration fees, paid every two years, from $25 to $700.
A total of 16 states currently operate public financing programs. Seven of the 16 are full public financing programs (as opposed to partial public financing programs, which offer public funds for part of the costs of a campaign, rather than the full campaign).
Supporters of Prop. 15 argued that special interests hold too much power over elected officials in California, and that removing private money from election campaigsn would reduce this influence. Opponents argued that the measure amounts to a tax increase (on lobbyists), and that it is improper to use public funds to finance campaigns.
Other Measures on the California Ballot
Proposition 13, approved by 84.5 percent of voters, will permanent exclude earthquake safety upgrades from property valuation for tax purposes. It was referred to the ballot by the legislature. Proposition 16, an initiative, was rejected by voters. It would have required the approval of two-thirds of voters before a local government could begin providing electricity service. Proposition 17, also an initiative and also rejected by voters, would have allowed automobile insurance providers to adjust their rates dependent in part on a driver's history of insurance coverage.
Maine Ballot Measures
Maine voters soundly rejected a tax-reform bill passed by the legislature in 2009. Question 1 reached the ballot via the popular referendum (also called a people's veto). This is a process whereby citizens can circulate a petition to demand popular approval of a newly-passed law. If enough valid signatures are presented, implementation of the new law goes on hold so that a public vote may be held. If voters approve the new law, it takes effect. If they reject it, it never takes effect.
The law in question in this case was Public Law 382, which would have overhauled Maine's tax laws. It would have cut the personal income tax rate for people earning less than $250,000 per year, and replaced that lost revenue by increasing the meals and lodging tax and broadening the base of the sales tax. The Maine Revenue Service had projected that the implementation of Public Law 382 would have reduced taxes for 90 percent of Maine residents, reducing income taxes by an average of $150 per family, and the overall tax burden by a total of $55 million. 61 percent of Maine voters opted to reject Question 1.
Maine voters approved all four bond measures on yesterday's ballot:
- Question 2: $26.5 million for energy efficiency
- Question 3: $47.8 million for transportation
- Question 4: $23.75 million for economic development and job creation
- Question 5: $10.25 million to improve water quality
For More Information
For more information on ballot measures, contact Jennie Drage Bowser in NCSL's Denver office at 303-364-7700.