Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
I have been waiting for California to finish counting all of the votes in its primary election last Tuesday (some races were too close to call the last time I checked). The vote is still not yet certified as final.
This was California's first experiment with the "top two" primary system that California voters foolishly enacted in the last election. Arizona has a citizens intiative to enact the same system here that may be on the ballot in November.
As I have said before, the media villagers love this kind of thing, in particular, the Arizona Republic which has promoted this initiative in its pages.
Supporters of the "top two" primary system claim that: (1) it will lead to greater voter participation in primary elections, (2) it will lead to more independent candidates being elected (not synonomous with "moderate" as the media villagers would have you believe), and (3) it will reduce the partisan influence of the two major political parties.
California voters proved last week that all of these assumptions are WRONG. As I have said before, media villager "conventional wisdom" is always wrong.
Steve Singiser at Daily Kos has been following the California primary results more closely than I have. On Sunday he posted The California 'top two' open primary format: A postmortem:
Last Sunday, in advance of the June 6th primary elections, I posed three questions about Tuesday's California primaries.
The genesis of the piece was born in the new "top two" primary elections format that made its debut five days ago in the Golden State, which had aroused a fair amount of attention and scrutiny in the political arena in the run-up to the actual balloting.
Now that we have some actual data to deal with, what do we know now about the process? The elections created intrigue, to be sure, but also had some glaring flaws which were quickly exposed on Tuesday night.
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[L]et's recap those three questions posed last week, and take a minute to analyze those questions.
* * *
Now, about those questions:
1. Will the new system embolden independent candidates, or kill them off?
The answer: By and large, kill them off.
Before this "top two" system was put in place, third-party candidates could participate in the general election, and could play a pivotal role in the outcome of the November elections, especially in races or districts that are closely contested.
Now, the only way for a third-party or independent candidate to be relevant is to crack that top two. Currently, [only] four golden tickets to November were punched by a candidate who was neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Three candidates aren't even worth mentioning, because they are running in uber-blue or uber-red districts. Those are the kind of districts where the incumbents are often unopposed, anyway.
Only one candidate has the capacity to make things even marginally interesting. That candidate is little-known, but very well-heeled, independent candidate Bill Bloomfield in CA-33. Bloomfield is the wealthy owner of a real estate firm who dumped over $1.1 million in self contributions to his campaign, and earned 26 percent of the vote on primary day.
[T]hree higher-profile (but lesser-funded) indie candidates failed to crack the top two. In two of those cases, Congressional candidates Chad Condit (CA-10) and Linda Parks (CA-26) had the advantage of some name recognition, but failed to crack the 20 percent barrier. The third indie, Nathan Fletcher (San Diego Mayor), was a former GOP state legislator whose candidacy was hyped to the moon and back. In the end, enough Democrats stuck with Rep. Bob Filner, and enough Republicans stuck with Carl DeMaio, to relegate Fletcher to third-place status, albeit with 24 percent of the vote.
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2. Will June be a predictor for November in key races?
The short answer is: Almost certainly not. Turnout was pretty darned weak (it currently sits at 24 percent of registered voters, whereas turnout in 2010 was 33 percent, and turnout in 2008 was 28 percent. Furthermore, it was a skewed sample—51 percent of voters drew a Democratic presidential primary ballot (the only contest which, by rule, had to be restricted to one-party primary rules). 47 percent cast ballots in the GOP primary. Absolutely no one, in either party, thinks that will be the composition of the electorate in November.
3. Will this new system inadvertently screw Democrats?
Heh. This is where that big, but not totally unforeseen, flaw in this system comes to the fore. However, when I posed this question last Sunday, I looked at this purely from a campaign finance perspective.
That will be a consideration, still. Democrats are going heads-up in a handful of districts, though only a few of those (CA-15, CA-30 and CA-44) are liable to be big money affairs.
Republicans, meanwhile, look like they will have two such contests. One was foreseen, to an extent: the high desert district in CA-08. In a wild, almost absurd multi candidate field, Republicans went 1-2-3. However, the gap between Republican frontrunner Paul Cook and fourth place Democrat Jackie Conaway was less than 1000 votes.
[I]n the newly drawn and marginally Democratic 31st district, Republicans accounted for 52 percent of the vote and Democrats accounted for 48 percent. And yet, there will in all probability be two Republicans on the ballot in November.
How did such a catastrophe occur? Because there were only two Republicans on the ballot (incumbent Rep. Gary Miller and state legislator Bob Dutton), and a quartet of Democrats. Because there was little real estate between the two Republicans, they scored at 27 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Even though Democrat Pete Aguilar actually got about half of the Democratic vote, the three remaining Democrats in the mix claimed the rest. This left Aguilar at 23 percent, and out of the running.
And herein lies an institutional problem with the "top two" structure, one which might actually counteract one of the stated goals of the new system. If one of the rationales for this system was to weaken the influence of political parties, it may have failed miserably. Because one has to assume now that parties in 2014 will be working double time to clear the decks for their preferred candidates in the filing process. Whether it is indirect "take one for the team pressure," or a raft of party assistance being dropped in the laps of the favored horses in the field, one has to guess that the sting of losing a winnable district will compel the Democrats (and the GOP, if they were paying close attention) to interfere more in the primary process, not less.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, might be done to rectify this particular malady. The nightmare scenario of both parties running "fake" candidates of the opposite party, in an effort to enlard the ballot and split votes, seems to demand some kind of a fix. [As occurred here in Arizona in 2010 when the Arizona Republican Party recruited "sham" Green Party candidates to run in the "Green Scheme" voter siphon scandal.]
So lets review: The "Top Two" primary in California: (1) led to lower voter turnout in the primary than in previous elections, (2) only one "independent" candidate, a self-funded millionaire, has even a marginal shot at election, and (3) partisan influence of the two major parties increased, where several contests this fall are all "D" or all "R" affairs, and there is some evidence of strategic gaming of the system with "sham" candidates to dilute the vote to benefit a candidate.
In other words, the "Top Two" primary failed to deliver on any of its supposed "fixes." Moreover, minor party candidates are now "disappeared" off the general election ballot, reducing the options for voters in November.
California's experiment with the "Top Two" primary was an epic failure. Arizonans would be foolish to fall for this nonsense if it makes it onto the ballot in November.