- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2000

SANTA ANA, Calif. Foes of cross-party voting in California say they have proof the open primary is unfair, an issue that will be argued today before the Supreme Court.
In two state Assembly races in Orange County, conservative Republican candidates sponsored by top party officials lost nominations in March to more moderate candidates because the winners attracted thousands of Democratic votes.
While some opponents of the system claim this demonstrates Democrats "stole" Republican nominations, backers of the law contend the results are exactly what the law was intended to produce.
"That's just proof that this system is working, that it's producing more moderate candidates who can appeal to voters in both parties," said Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum, a supporter of the blanket primary law, passed as a 1996 ballot initiative.
But Colleen McAndrews, a Republican election lawyer and foe of the blanket primary, disagrees. "It shows that the system deprives voters in each party of the chance to select their own candidates," she said. "The fact that the Supreme Court took the case is a bad sign for backers of the open system."
Under today's system, all candidates for state office from all parties are listed on the same ballot, with voters able to go for whomever they want, regardless of their own party affiliation or the candidates'.
Both major political parties sued to overturn the open-voting system immediately after the initiative passed, with the Democrats as the lead plaintiff. But the California Supreme Court found the new system legal.
"We believe our membership ought to be determined by our own ideology," said Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party.
Now, in a parallel case of politics making strange bedfellows, the top Republican and Democratic state officials in California are fighting to uphold the law.
"There can be no act more basic to a democracy than the direct vote of its citizens to increase the democratic nature of their electoral process and the representativeness of those selected to govern," Democratic Gov. Gray Davis said in a friend-of-the-court brief submitted March 30. He defied the top officials of his own party and argued that the blanket system increases debate and voter participation and "produces candidates who are more reflective of the entire citizenry. It expands the scope of debate beyond limited partisan concerns."
Joining him in backing the open-primary system is Republican California Secretary of State Bill Jones, who also bucked his party's leadership by backing Arizona Sen. John McCain in the primary this spring.
Mr. Jones, who is expected to attend the oral arguments in Washington, D.C., has been the leading official supporter of the open primary since it passed, arguing that it assures moderates a voice in both parties.
Rep. Tom Campbell, the GOP's nominee against Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said he also plans to file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the open primary before today's session.
The Orange County results in districts where Republican nominations mean almost automatic election were the first time the open system's results could be tabulated with complete accuracy. That was because Republican voters got green-tinted ballot cards and Democrats orange in March, so that presidential votes could be tallied both by party and in overall totals.
In the 67th Assembly district for an open seat, Tom Harman won by 9 percent over Jim Righeimer, who was endorsed by the county Republican organization. But among Republican voters, Mr. Righeimer beat Mr. Harman by 6 percent margin.
Said Mr. Harman, a Huntington Beach City Council mmber who won by 9,600 votes: "We had some new rules. I chose to use the new rules, and it worked to my advantage."
Nearby, in a race for another open seat in the 72nd district, Lynn Daucher received 5 percent more votes than establishment candidate Bruce Matthias. But among Republican voters, Mr. Matthias won by 1,321 votes.
Knowing they were up against the county's Republican organization, both Mr. Harman and Mrs. Daucher actively sought Democratic votes during their campaigns.
"It's not right," said Mr. Righeimer. "Republicans should select their own party's nominees."
One Righeimer supporter paid about $6,000 for the recount, saying he wanted to prove that Democrats "stole" the election from Mr. Righeimer.
But Mr. Hoffenblum points out that helping select a more moderate Republican nominee in a "safe" GOP district gives a voice to the 41 percent of the district's voters who are registered Democrats and would previously have had nothing to say about who represents them.
Backers of Mr. Righeimer and Mr. Matthias say another legal fight will surely ensue if the Supreme Court throws out the open primary in its eventual ruling, expected in late June.
Mr. Jones maintains that even if the current system is disallowed, the March results will stand. But the defeated candidates both said that if the Supreme Court does that, they will sue to get the Republican spots on the November ballot.

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