Politics & Government

California third parties worry Prop 14 will kill them

For registered members of California's minor parties, Proposition 14 isn't just about winning or losing elections.

It's a matter of survival.

"It pretty much wipes us out," said John Reiger, former congressional candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party.

Proposition 14 would create a "top two" primary in which candidates of all party affiliations run on one primary ballot. The two candidates who win the most votes, regardless of party, would face off in the general election. The system would not apply to presidential primaries.

Supporters say the change would let voters choose the best candidate and give the 20 percent of voters registered as decline-to-state a greater say in elections.

The proposal to eliminate party primaries has drawn criticism from the state Democratic and Republican parties. But it's also opposed by members of California's qualified minor parties, who say they would be locked out of the new political process.

Candidates who are neither Republican nor Democratic don't exactly thrive under the current system.

The last one elected to the Legislature was the Green Party's Audie Bock of Oakland, who made it to the state Assembly in a 1998 special election. Bock lost a bid for a full term the next year after re-registering as a decline-to-state voter.

Minor-party leaders readily admit they represent a slim fraction of Californians. A combined 4.5 percent of the state's registered voters sign up with the American Independent, Green, Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties. But they fear that Proposition 14 could strip some parties of their ballot-qualified status altogether.

"There's no question that any of the third parties represent a minority viewpoint. That's just the reality," Reiger said. "That doesn't mean that we should not have a legitimate place in the political structure in this country, in this state."

Under current law, parties seeking state recognition must register about 100,000 voters or win 2 percent of the vote in a general election held for statewide office in a non-presidential year. Without a guaranteed spot on the November ballot, minor party officials say they would have little shot at qualifying.

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