Thursday, June 7, 2012

Top-two California Primary Shows Promise

Tuesday, June 5, we had the first test of the new, less-partisan, open primary system established under Proposition 14. While most candidates and voters stuck to their old partisan ways, some of the results were encouraging. Notably, this November there will be a number of contests between two Democratic Party identified candidates, or between two Republican Party identified candidates.

In the 53 House of Representatives congressional districts in California most of the races produced results similar to the old partisan primaries: a Republican will run against a Democrat in the fall. 40 districts will have that traditional choice.

One district, 37, had only one candidate, a Democrat, the incumbent.

Six districts will see two Democrats contenting for the seat in November.

Two districts will see two Republicans runoff.

Four districts will have an NPP, no political party, candidate in November. These independent candidates will face Democrats in three cases and a Republican in one case.

In the 80 California State Assembly races, 58 will be Dem v. Rep. Twelve races will pit Democratic Party candidates against each other. 6 will pit two Republican Party candidates against each other. Appallingly, in 3 districts only one person ran, a Democrat. Only one NPP, independent candidate made it to the November election, and will be facing a Democrat.

In the 20 California State Senate races (out of 80 4-year seats), 14 will be bipartisan in the fall. Two races will be between Democrats. One race will feature two Republican contenders. Three races had only one candidate, all Democratic Party.

Independents as candidates did not do well, and even those who made the Top Two are not likely to do well in the fall. Still, it is a start. Independents don't have the campaign organization or funding that the political parties have, but this may change with time. Also, independent voters often don't vote in primaries, since in the past they could only vote for or against propositions. Strong campaigns by independents in the primaries should encourage better voting habits by those who do not identify with a political party.
We will see a fair number of races where both candidates are from one political party this November. This is already a paradigm shift. In the past the party machine candidate won its primary. Since districts in California tend to be heavily biased to one or another party, the machine candidate of the majority party was almost guaranteed victory in the fall.

Now in Republican districts a far-right candidate may loose to a moderate Republican, if the Democrats and independents get out and vote for the moderate. Similarly for the Democratic Party dominated districts.
Third party candidates struck out under the new system, but they almost always struck out under the old system too. Buried in the results were a few Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates who came within decent range of making the top two. With more campaign contributions and better run campaigns these types of candidates could finally start upsetting the entrenched parties in 2014.

This is a great experiment in electoral democracy. The political party machines and their candidates will, of course, continue to look for ways to control the government gravy train. Citizens devoted to good government are going to have to get their electoral campaigning to a higher level if we ever want to see genuinely good government in California. Top-two primaries open the door to that possibility.
Note: some elections were close enough that counting straggling votes, or a recount, could change the results tabulated above.