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In Americanmarker politics, cross-filing occurs when a candidate runs in the primary election of not only his own party, but also that of one or more other parties, generally in the hope of reducing or eliminating his competition at the general election. It was in effect in Californiamarker from 1913 to 1959, when it was abolished, and has been used in other states, most significantly in New Yorkmarker and New Hampshiremarker, where it is still in effect.

Cross-filing continues today in New York, though the usual course is for the Republican nominee to also gain the endorsement of the Conservative Party of New York. However, in 1944, New York Congressman Vito Marcantonio was successful in winning both the Republican and Democratic Party primaries, assuring his re-election.

Cross-Filing in California Elections, 1913-1959

In 1909, California introduced the direct primary election in its elections. The state's requirement that candidates in primary elections pledge that they supported that party in the previous general election was struck down by the California Supreme Courtmarker in 1909, in a case involving the Socialist Party of America. While the California State Legislature attempted to institute a looser test in 1911, by 1913, there was no longer any restriction on candidates filing in multiple primaries. The cross-filing provision was added to a previously debated primary bill by members of the administration of Governor Hiram Johnson, who had previously run (on separate occasions) as a Republican and with the Progressive Party.

In 1917 and 1919, the legislature barred candidates who lost their own party's nomination from running as a member of any other party, and allowed the state committee of the affected party to fill any vacancies on their ticket. In combination with statutes that placed the incumbent first on the ballot and designated him by his title, these ballot rules gave a heavy advantage to incumbents.

In 1946, Governor Earl Warren, eight other officials on the statewide ballot, twelve of the state's twenty-three members of the United States House of Representatives, and approximately three-quarters of the members of the legislature who were running for reelection secured election winning both major primaries through cross-filing. In 1948, Congressman Richard Nixon, facing no Republican primary opponent, cross-filed and defeated Stephen Zetterberg in the Democratic primary .

In 1952, the incumbent Republican U.S. Senator, William Knowland, won the nomination of both parties - marking the low point of post-war Democratic political fortunes in California and bringing into sharp focus the results of cross-filing: Though the majority of California voters were registered Democrats, there had only been one Democratic Governor in the 20th Century and the Republicans held the majority in both houses of the Legislature, and a total of 111 out of the 162 elective, partisan offices in the state.

That same year, the Democrats, with funding from oil millionaire Edwin Pauley, organized a campaign to place an Initiative measure on the ballot to abolish cross-filing. In an attempt to defeat the initiative, the Republican-controlled Legislature proposed a competing measure, retaining cross- filing, but requiring candidates to list their party affiiation on all ballots. The Democratic initiative was defeated and the Republican measure won. But thereafter, Republicans running in a Democratic Primary would be labeled Republican - a great disadvantage in Democratic districts. This marked the beginning of the end of cross-filing.

At the same time, after the 1952 general election and the national defeat of Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, the California Democratic Council, a grassroots organization of Democratic Clubs, was formed by Stevenson enthusiasts, most of whom were volunteer activists rather than professional politicians, in large part to overcome the Republican Party advantage through cross-filing.

Cross-filing was finally abolished in California in 1959, after the Democrats swept to power in the 1958 election, with Pat Brown becoming the first Democratic Governor since 1942.


  1. Background introduction to California Democratic Council Records
  2. Bill Boyarsky. Big Daddy, Jesse Unruh and the Art of Power Politics (University of California Press, 2008), Pg. 54

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