Why Not Let People Vote For Whomever They Want?

What would it take to reverse the trend of voter turnout? The real answers to that question – partisan local elections, a reversal of the top two disaster (and the resulting voter confusion, expensive campaign nastiness, and party weakness), elections on weekends, loosening all the constitutional rules that take issues off the table – are considered politically unrealistic. In part because reformers supported reforms that discourage voting, and being a reformer means never having to say you were wrong.

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Since this is California, you’ve probably got to start with a small step. So here it is: Restore to voters the power to vote for whomever they choose.

Didn’t know that that power had been taken away from you? It was – back in 2012 when a law, designed to implement top two, abolished write-in voting on the November ballot for partisan offices (president being the exception). The change didn’t get much attention at the time, but it eliminated one more reason for people to vote. There never were a lot of write-ins, but we’re told that every vote counts. And every vote counts more when so few people are voting.

Scrapping write-ins eliminated a California political tradition. As Richard Winger of Ballot Access News pointed out in an email, Californians elected a write-in candidate to Congress three times in a general election:  1930 (won by the son of a Sacramento Congressman who died in office), 1946 (when William Knowland won the last couple months of Hiram Johnson’s last U.S. Senate term), 1982 (Ron Packard).  In eliminating write-ins, California went against the grain. According to Winger, California is the only state besides Louisiana that ever had write-ins and abolished them.  There are four states that have never had write-ins:  Nevada, South Dakota, Hawaii, and Oklahoma.

Why should we bring write-ins back? For reasons of democracy and engagement. Minor parties that have been shut out of November elections by top two would have an incentive to campaign, and bring voters to the polls, since they’d have the write-in option. Write-ins also provide a way to make sure that voters of a major party aren’t shut out when two candidates of the same party advance in the top two. (Write-ins also could serve as a check on the crazy first-round election results that top two sometimes produces.)

There’s an ongoing legal challenge to the top two alleging that it violates the rights of voters who want to cast ballot for minor party candidates in November (a hearing is currently scheduled for Jan. 15 in the State Court of Appeals in San Francisco). But why wait for the courts? The legislature could act to restore choice on the ballot, and give at least a few more voters a reason to show up.

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Joe Mathews is a Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)


  1. Two month ago Tony Ferraro was on track for an easy reelection. He was incoming President of the California League of Cities. Then it a cn a cover up of the city manager having an intimate relationship at the city hall in the evening. Tony was running unopposed but he lost to a write in candidate. Yes write ins are a great option and should be reinstated.

  2. OMG, Joe, what you propose will lead to Anarchy!
    The great unwashed need the steady hand of their Progressive overlords to guide them to Nirvana, for without that guidance, we will lose our way and wander aimlessly in the wilderness for generations.
    Or, we can just mimic the French of the Late-18th Century, and deal with our “betters” with extreme prejudice.

  3. Gotta Gedada Displace says

    If the ignorance and apathy of CA voters weren’t pandemic, the co-conspirators behind “Top-2” would be hanging from lamp posts. The absurd wound-salting hypocracy, is the cottage (lawsuit) industry running up and down the state using CVRA to justify eradicating “at large” voting because “under-represented” groups are unable to elect their desired candidates, with the burden of proof by RESULTS, while ABSURDLY, “Top-2” INSTITUTIONALIZES a similarly functioning mechanism! The REAL yardstick for an “acceptable” system , is whether liberal Democratic agendas are promoted or not! If CA does not shed “top-2”, all remaining cognitive voters will shed CA!

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