Putting Thumb on Scale of California Elections Threatens Our Democracy
“To the victor go the spoils” goes the old proverb.
This statement is true in many things in life, but certainly rings true in politics.
Consider the ongoing effort to change California’s elections laws to try and help Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, who is the target of a recall election.
When you talk about state elections law changes, you will inevitably see your friends’ eyes start to glaze over as memories of boredom from high school civics class fill their minds. Yet these changes are critically important. Despite scant press coverage, sweeping election law changes have been enacted in recent years that significantly impact our democracy.
On a recent episode of “Another Round with PRI,” I talked with Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee Vice Chair Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, about these changes that have made our elections process more partisan and less fair.
These include only allowing statewide ballot initiatives to be voted in the November general election, paving the way for ballot harvesting by allowing vote-by-mail votes to be accepted up to 3 days after the election, and soon, same-day voter registration with little fraud protection.
Not to be outdone, a provision was passed in the 2017-18 budget to slow down the Newman recall process retroactively by adding new burdens to try and delay it to the June 2018 election or beyond. Delaying the recall to June 2018 or an election with higher turnout will reportedly help Sen. Newman.
But a state appeals court judge recently put that law on hold, keeping the current rules in place and paving the way for a swift election. Soon after, local registrars announced that supporters have gathered enough signatures to force a recall.
Not deterred, Democrats rushed last week to pass a bill to try and satisfy the courts and retroactively change the Newman recall process. Gov. Brown signed the bill on Thursday, the same day the Legislature sent it to him. Now it is up to the courts to determine the fate of this new law.
California has long prided itself on our fair and open elections. A century ago, the Golden State gave birth to the initiative, referendum, and recall – giving the people the ability to change the course of their government at the ballot box.
For decades, these reforms have been the hallmark of California’s democracy. But now, sadly, they have now become a political football.
Regardless of your feelings about the Newman recall, Californians should be deeply concerned about politicians putting thumb on the elections scale to aid one side or the other.
Tim Anaya is Communications Director for Pacific Research Institute.