California – Yes on Prop 14, No on Prop 16

As most people who read my stuff have probably already voted, I should have posted this earlier if I wanted to actually persuade anyone. Still, I feel it’s good practice for me to justify my own votes.

Yes on Prop 14

Prop 14 creates a non-partisan primary system. Rather than party-specific primaries, there’s just one big election where everyone from any party runs. The top two vote-getters (assuming neither candidate gets more than 50%) then move on to a run-off vote.

Personally, I think instant-runoff voting is the way to go, but a jungle primary would be an improvement too. That said, you’re not automatically getting less polarizing candidates as advertised. In most jungle primaries, the two who make it to the runoff round are probably going to be the same two who would have won the Democratic and Republican primaries anyway. The benefit is really in those edge cases where there’s a candidate with significant cross-over appeal. For example, let’s say I’m really invested in the outcome of a close Democratic primary for Governor but I also really like one of the more moderate Republican candidate for Treasurer. Under the old system, they’re on different ballots, so I’d have to choose which one I care about more. Under the new one, it’s all unified onto a single ballot, so I can make those moderating votes for both candidates.

Also, maybe primary candidates will stop saying “vote for me because I’m more likely to win in November.” If you really believe you have significant cross-over appeal, you’ll see it now in the primary, not in the run-off. So maybe, maybe they’ll stop making that stupid argument. One can hope.

To address a few concerns people bring up.

  • Third-party candidates get screwed! They’re already screwed. Yes, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll make it to the run-off round, but it’s not like third-party candidates have a great shot of winning a regular election vote anway. Also, third-party candidates tend to occupy a position further to the left or right than the mainstream parties.
  • Candidates can hide their party affiliation! I’m not sure why this is bad. The premise behind this argument is that voters are too lazy or stupid or do their own research and instead rely on a party label to decide who to vote for. That may be true, but we shouldn’t encourage that.
  • We’ll get two Democrats or two Republicans in the run-off! There are two scenarios in which this would happen. One is that you live in a district that’s overwhelmingly tilted towards one party or the other — e.g. if you live in a district’s that’s 70% Republican, the two Republicans get 35% each and the lone Democrat gets only 30%. That’s okay with me. It’s not as if the Democrat was going to win the general election anyway. In this model at least, the 30% of the Democrats now get to top the balance towards the more moderate Republican in the general.

    The second scenario in which this happens is where one party gains an advantage by having fewer (serious) candidates than the other — e.g. the district might be 70/30 Democrat and Republican but the Republicans have only two candidates and the Democrats have ten. Assuming the vote is evenly split on party lines, even though the district is majority Democrat, you’re going to have two Republicans in the run-off. This might be problematic, but I think it’s unlikely. First, there tends to be a lot of wheeling and dealing among the candidates themselves to get the number down early on. I’m not happy about that backroom deals, but it happens and I expect it’ll minimize the risk of weird run-offs happening. It’s sort of why we rarely have viable third-party candidates in the first place — the two big parties work really hard to co-opt them. Second, even if it did happened, I personally would find it hilarious to see two Republicans trying to out-liberal each other in the run-off.

No on Prop 16

Prop 16 requires a two-third vote by the public before a public entity can enter the retail power business. I’m not a fan of issue-by-issue refereda or two-third votes. Both are why California is in its current fiscal mess.

In a referendum, voters consider a relatively narrow set of issues — e.g. more schools vs. more taxes. In practice however, issues are highly inter-connected. For instance, more schools may, in practice, mean cuts to public health instead of more taxes. Government officials are in a much better location to spot and identify those issues than individual voters.

Don’t trust those government officials? Then vote them out of office! We’re the bosses, and the government officials are the employees. We pay them to make the hard decisions. Relying on referendums sounds a lot like micro-managing an employee you can’t trust. If you can’t trust your employees, fire them (or if you’re nice, just lay them off).

The two-third requirements makes this proposition doubly ridiculous. Two-third votes prevent people from making hard choices. It’s why California can’t ever pass a budget on time. Who do you hold accountable here? The majority says, “Don’t blame us. The minority is obstructing us.” The minority says, “Don’t blame us. We’re just the minority.” I don’t care who’s in the majority — just get something done. If we screw it up, then we’ll learn and fix it the next time around. That’s true of the budget, and it’s true of referendums as well.