California voters cast votes on 5 propositions

Voters in the Southland and across the state will cast ballots today on five propositions on issues ranging from open primary elections to proposed changes in auto insurance coverage.

– Proposition 13 would prevent an automatic property-tax valuation reassessment from occurring when homeowners retrofit structures to make them more earthquake safe.

State law includes reassessment exemptions for some seismic upgrades, but Proposition 13 would amend the state constitution to remove those exemptions and replace them with a single exclusion for all earthquake-safety upgrades. Supporters said the existing system could discourage property owners from making certain types of seismic upgrades out of fear of higher property taxes.

– Proposition 14 would institute an open-primary election system for partisan posts, allowing voters to cast ballots in primary elections for any candidate regardless of political party. The top two vote-getters in the open primary would advance to the general election, even if they are both from the same party.

The measure would affect races for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, controller, insurance commissioner and attorney general, along with state senators and Assembly members, Board of Equalization members, U.S. senators and congressional members.

Proponents contend measure would help reduce partisan politics and give independent voters a stronger voice in elections. Opponents, however, argue that the measure would allow candidates to conceal their party affiliation and drive up the cost of elections.

– Proposition 15 would repeal the state's ban on public financing of political campaigns and authorize an experiment with public financing in the 2014 and 2018 elections for secretary of state. Under the proposal, candidates who collect a set number of $5 donations from voters would qualify for public campaign financing. Major party candidates could receive an initial $1 million for a primary election, along with up to $4 million more if non-publicly financed candidates spend that much.

In a general election, a candidate could receive up to $6.5 million.

Proponents insist that public financing would reduce the impact of special-interest groups on elections, and allow politicians to focus on issues rather than fundraising. Opponents counter that the proposal would still allow politicians to collect money from special-interest groups, and will also be costly to taxpayers.

– Proposition 16 would require local governments to obtain the approval of two-thirds of voters before using public money to provide or expand electricity service. Supporters say voters should have final say before taxpayer dollars are spent on electrical service. But opponents claim the proposal would reduce competition and make it easier for private utility companies to raise electric rates.

– Proposition 17 would allow insurance companies to offer discounts to drivers who continuously maintain coverage, even if they change companies, and allow insurers to increase policy costs for drivers who do not have a history of continuous coverage.

Backers of the proposition, which is funded primarily by Mercury Insurance Co., claim the measure will save drivers who maintain insurance coverage as much as $250 a year and will lead to increased competition among insurers. Opponents, however, contend the proposition will allow insurers to raise rates and penalize motorists with perfect driving records if they cancel their insurance policies for as little as 91 days over the past five years.