Lawsuit Filed Against California's New "Top-Two" Primary System

A lawsuit was filed by voters from minor political parties challenging California's new “top-two” primary system.  The lawsuit argues that the election process established under Proposition 14 is unconstitutional.  The complaint was filed on behalf of eight voters registered with the Democratic, Green, Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda Superior Court last week, claims that the new system, which sends only the two candidates who get the most votes in the primary, regardless of political party affiliation, to the general election, "severely burdens voter, candidate and party associational rights."

"By limiting access to the general election ballot, Prop. 14 effectively bars small political parties, their candidates, and their members from effective political association, precisely at the moment when the highest number of voters are engaged in the electoral process," the complaint reads.

The lawsuit also contends that the new system will make it more difficult for minor parties to remain recognized by the state as an official party, echoing a concern raised by the political party leaders who opposed Proposition 14 on the June 2010 ballot.  Most minor parties qualify for the ballot by running a candidate for statewide office who receives at least 2 percent of the votes cast in a gubernatorial general election.  Limiting the number of candidates on the general election ballot to two will effectively eliminate that option, minor party advocates say.

The suit claims that the plaintiffs will "suffer a substantially diminished ability to effectively participate in the electoral process as members of small political parties" under the new system.  Several lawsuits seeking to block the law drafted to implement the new system have so far been rejected by state and federal courts.