In response to Hawaii Democrats suit to close their primary, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, columnist David Shapiro and Luxury Resort Developer Pierre Omidyar’s Civil Beat have all editorialized in favor of Hawaii adopting California’s ‘Top Two’ primary system – which is itself modeled on Louisiana's notorious ‘Jungle primary’. Here is the rundown on California’s system and who was behind it:
How Prop. 14 weakened democracy: Elections are supposed to be about choice. But with minor party candidates marginalized and only two spots in a general election, voters have far less to choose from.
Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2012
When sample ballots started arriving this month, many California voters must have wondered where all the candidates went. Previously it was possible to vote for someone other than a Republican or Democrat; most voters will not have that option this year. Some won't even get to choose between a Republican and Democrat. They'll have to pick between two Democrats or two Republicans.
What happened to all the other candidates? Proposition 14 and the California Legislature happened. Neither was good for democracy.
One characteristic of democratic systems is that voters have freedom of choice; they get to cast their ballot for whomever they consider the best option. In American politics, that means if the Republican and Democratic candidates aren't good enough, people can vote independent, Libertarian, Green or write in someone else. Even if the candidate doesn't win, voters still get to make their preferences known.
Proposition 14 and the Legislature removed that possibility.
Proposition 14, passed in 2010, changed California elections from partisan primaries followed by a general election to a two-stage run-off election. Before, political parties and their voters nominated candidates in separate primaries. Every qualified party was guaranteed a line on the November ballot, and voters were able to choose from among those candidates. Now, all the candidates for congressional, state legislative and statewide offices, regardless of party, appear together on the first ballot, and only the top two candidates — again, regardless of party — compete in the general election.
To be sure, there were good motives for changing the electoral system. The hope was that doing so would reduce the level of partisan dysfunction in Sacramento. Unfortunately, political science research finds that open primaries do not necessarily lead to less-partisan legislatures. In fact, they can lead to just the opposite.
The change did discourage minor party candidates from running. More important, as a minor party representative told me, it discouraged the recruitment of candidates. Why try to persuade people to put their time, energy and money into what is almost certainly a brief, losing effort? When most people identify and vote either Republican or Democratic, the odds of a Libertarian or Green Party candidate getting one of the top two spots is incredibly small.
In the old system, the candidates were guaranteed to appear on the November ballot. Now, they are almost guaranteed not to appear on that ballot….
People who ran in 2010 chose not to in 2012.
Is it any wonder, then, that 2012 saw the fewest minor party candidates in California in almost 50 years?
Elections in a democracy are supposed to be about choice. Proposition 14 and the Legislature reduced voters' choice and made California elections less democratic.
read … LA Times
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California Choices: Pro and Con on Prop 14
Ballot Access News: Some Supporters of Top-Two Open Primary Take Punitive Action to Crush Opponents with Crippling Legal Fees
NPR: nearly 30 congressional and state legislative races will feature a Democrat on Democrat or Republican on Republican contest The great irony in the Sherman-versus-Berman race is two longtime Democratic stalwarts, almost icons, are going to have their campaign decided by who can best reach out to Republican voters
NYT: New Rules Upend House Re-Election Races in California (Like seniority? Check out how Calif Republicans backed newbie Democrat to toss out Democrat US Rep after 19 straight wins.)
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MSNBC: You’re going to have a very, very nasty race
“This could stifle the big philosophical debates addressed in elections,” said Richard Winger, the author of the blog Ballot Access News and an opponent of Proposition 14. Imagine if such a system had been used during the 2008 presidential contest: “Half of the country would have been completely left out of the general election,” he said.
If the result of an open primary contest is a general election between two Democrats or two Republicans, added Wertheimer, voters could be in for a messy few months.
“In any race where you’re going to have two candidates from the same party, what you’re going to have a very, very nasty race,” he said. “With very little difference in the substance of their views, they have to find ways to draw lines between each other.”
According to state campaign finance records, the “Yes on 14” Committee raised over $4.5 million in the effort to pass the proposal. Schwarzenegger’s campaign committee gave $2 million to support the initiative, while the state’s Chamber of Commerce-affiliated PAC contributed over $700,000.
The initiative is widely expected to face a court challenge by opponents, who point to past legal scuffles over similar proposals. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a blanket primary, in which any voter could choose freely among a list of candidates regardless of party affiliation, violated the First Amendment’s freedom of association clause. But in 2008, the court ruled that a “modified” blanket primary in Washington State – upon which the language of Proposition 14 was modeled -- did not violate the Constitution.
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State of Elections: How California’s Top-Two Primary System Reinforces the Status Quo
The recent general election provided critics of the top-two primary system with their first opportunity to gauge the effects of the new process. A glance at the matchups for seats in the State Senate, State Assembly, and the U.S. House of Representatives reveals that very few third party and independent candidates made the general election ballots.
- In twenty total State Senate races: two third-party candidates appeared
- In eighty total State Assembly races: one third-party candidate and one candidate who listed no preferred party appeared
- In fifty-three total Congressional races: four candidates who listed no preferred party appeared
- In 153 total races: eight third-party or independent candidates appeared (roughly 5%)
Because third-party and independent candidates simply do not appear, and because Proposition 14 removed the ability of voters to write in candidates at the general election stage of the process, critics contend that the top-two primary system significantly limits the amount of choices voters have. Another interesting byproduct of the top-two primary system is the creation of intraparty seat races.
- In twenty total State Senate races: a Democrat opposed another Democrat in two races
- In eighty total State Assembly races, there were seven Republican/Republican matches and eleven Democrat/Democrat matches
- In fifty-three total Congressional races, there were two Republican/Republican matches and six Democrat/Democrat matches
- In 153 total races, candidates from the same party faced one another twenty-eight times (roughly 18%)
It may be difficult to determine whether California voters were content with their choices on Election Day. The top-two primary system intends to eliminate partisanship, but the above results do not indicate any shift from the traditional Democrat and Republican dominance of the past. Ideally, the top-two primary system would also encourage all voters, regardless of party, to participate in the primary election. This year, however, a near-record low 31.1% of voters cast a primary ballot. With results like these, California may not usher in the national shift that some believe is possible.