You may have missed it during the holiday season, but there was a big political dustup in California over the race to replace Kevin McCarthy in Congress.
Assemblyman Vince Fong filed to replace his former boss in Congress, but he had previously filed for re-election. Democratic Secretary of State Shirley Weber ruled Fong was ineligible for the ballot. Fong sued and, on Dec. 28, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shellyanne Chang gave him the greenlight to run.
In her ruling, Chang blamed an outdated law prohibiting candidates previously from running for two offices simultaneously.
“It somewhat defies common sense to find the law permits a candidate to run for two offices during the same election,” she wrote, but argued that she was “compelled to interpret the law as it is written by the Legislature.”
Immediately, Democratic partisans cried foul. Weber said she would appeal the ruling, vowing, “to ensure that voters in future elections will not become disenfranchised,” while ironically seeking to disenfranchise Bakersfield voters who want to send Fong to Congress.
Democratic Asm. Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, tweeted that “California is (a) Democratic state where we value voting rights and fair and open elections. There is too much at stake and there is no time for GOP shenanigans” and vowed to change the law.
Keep in mind that Chang is a former staffer for recalled Gov. Gray Davis, who appointed her to the bench in 2002 and would hardly be one to engage in “GOP shenanigans.”
The current debates over election laws in California and other states are not about defending fair and open elections.” Rather, they are the majority party in each respective state flexing their political muscles to change election laws to benefit their party.
Consider the mid-decade redistricting efforts going on right now in North Carolina and New York states.
In New York, Democrats passed a partisan redistricting plan that a court ruled violated state law and ordered a more neutral map redrawing. Following a changeover in the state Supreme Court, a recent ruling is allowing Democrats to attempt another map rewrite that could wipeout the GOP’s 2022 gains. Meanwhile, North Carolina Republicans recently passed their own map revision that is expected to gain 3 House seats for the GOP.
As US News and World Report recently reported, “the new and still-disputed lines have an impact on as many as 13 congressional districts – more than half of the 25 seats the nonpartisan Cook Political Report considers toss-ups next year and more than double the five seats Democrats would need to flip to regain control of the chamber.”
Here in California, Democrats have changed election laws in the state to benefit their party, including enacting measures to:
- Allow ballots to be counted if postmarked before the election and received up to 7 days after;
- Allow harvesting of ballots by political activists not related to the voter;
- Allow same-day voter registration;
- Expand automatic voter registration at the DMV;
- Allow the use of “ranked choice voting” in local elections;
- Push for district-based elections in cities and districts; and
- Changing the state and local recall process
Not surprisingly, the cumulative effect of these changes has been to vastly expand the number of Democrats elected.
Whenever politicians of either party seek to change election laws – especially in response to some outrage – this is not nonpartisan good governance at work. It’s putting their thumb on the scale.
Only once in recent memory have election laws been changed with a non-partisan, good governance intent. Recall when about 15 years ago, voters enacted our current independent redistricting process.
Despised by politicians in both parties, these changes are in the words of its main champion former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, based on the principle of people choosing their elected officials rather than politicians choosing their voters. These changes would have never been enacted by politicians, who in fact still grumble about changing the process because it doesn’t fully benefit them despite widespread popularity with voters.
When considering future changes to election law, politicians in both parties would be wise to ignore the “tit for tat” nature that typically characterizes pushes to change election laws – and is surely the impetus for Carrillo’s effort – and instead channel the spirit of the groundbreaking, bipartisan reforms of the past decade.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s vice president of marketing and communications.