Monday, August 2, 2004
C.A. Rules Ballot Measure on Voting Must Be Divided
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Legislators improperly combined a proposed constitutional amendment which would preserve California’s current method of primary voting with one providing for the sale of surplus state land to pay off bonds, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
But the court rejected a bid by supporters of a rival voting measure to knock the proposals off the November ballot, ruling instead that they may appear as separate propositions.
Supporters of Proposition 62, which would set up a “Louisiana-style” open primary election, had asked the Third District Court of Appeal to remove Proposition 60 from the ballot.
Proposition 60, put on the ballot by the Legislature, aims to keep a system that guarantees seven state political parties a spot on November general election ballots, and keeps separate primary ballots based on political affiliation. But it also included a provision that asks voters to approve paying off $15 billion in deficit bonds by selling surplus state land, instead of using sales tax revenue to repay the bonds.
The court said Friday it agreed the two issues are distinct, and cannot be combined into one ballot measure. But it ruled that both could remain on the November ballot.
Sens. Ross Johnson, R-Irvine, and Dede Alpert, D-Coronado, authored Proposition 60 to head off the proposal for a “Louisiana-style” primary. That type of primary puts all candidates on one primary ballot, with the top two vote-getters facing each other in a runoff, regardless of party.
The initiative supporting that style of election, Proposition 62, wouldn’t cover presidential primaries and elections for party central committee posts. If both measures win a majority of votes in November, the one getting more votes would take effect.
“I don’t like the idea, especially the way districts have gone lately, where you potentially have two Democrats or two Republicans running against each other in the general election,” Alpert said.
Californians for an Open Primary, one of the supporters of Proposition 62, had argued that the lawmakers deliberately bent constitutional principles to make their measure more attractive to voters.
The Legislative Counsel’s office, which represented the lawmaker’s ballot measure, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
Fred Woocher, who represented Californians for an Open Primary, also wasn’t available for comment. He had argued in court that splitting the measure and allowing both on the ballot would be a “grave mistake.”
But Alpert said Friday that having both items on the ballot “gives us a chance to have a discussion with the public about what the election system should look like.”
Writing for himself and Presiding Justice Arthur A. Scotland, Justice Coleman A. Blease rejected the argument of lawyers for the Legislature that its power to propose a constitutional “revision” supported combining the two amendments.
Sec. 1 of Article XVIII of the state Constitution permits the Legislature to propose “an amendment or revision” of the Constitution. It requires that when the Legislature proposes amendments, each must be “voted on separately.”
“[R]eal party argues that two unrelated amendments constitute a revision,” Blease explained. “That is not the case....”
The justice continued:
“[T]he amendments proposed by SCA 18 are two in number, wholly unrelated, not extensive, and do not constitute integral parts of a far-reaching change in the nature of the government plan. Although they are substantive in nature, neither changes the Constitution in a fundamental way that alters our basic plan of government.”
Allowing the Legislature to submit unrelated amendments to be voted on together “would render the separate vote requirement a nullity,” Blease declared.
But neither, he said, did the language of Sec. 1 require that the Legislature vote separately on the two proposals. Both were adopted together as Senate Constitutional Amendment 18.
Justice Rodney Davis dissented from the portion of the majority decision holding that the two measures should be submitted to the voters separately. That remedy was “an impermissible intrusion into constitutional prerogatives reserved for the legislative branch,” he declared.
Blease conceded that at oral argument attorneys for the Legislature argued that lawmakers did not intend the amendments to be voted on separately, urging the court to remove both from the ballot if it held they could not be combined. But he said it was unnecessary for the court to address that contention, since the Legislature retains the right under Sec. 1 to withdraw either or both proposals.
The case is Californians for an Open Primary v. Shelley, C047231.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company