Posted by Bob Lord
I received an email blast from a friend and staunch supporter of Proposition 121 yesterday. She's a moderate Republican turned Independent, so I can understand why the "top two primary" system is attractive to her.
But it's hard not to be suspicious. The Proposition is glaringly flawed in a way that suggests an ulterior motive on the part of its proponents.
The recent primaries in Congressional District 9 illustrate well the obvious flaw in Proposition 121. We had three Democrats in one primary, and seven Republicans in another. Two of the Democrats in their primary received over 30% of the vote, while none of the Republicans received 30% of the vote. Assuming the number ov votes cast in the two primaries were relatively equal, the two Dems would face off in the primary. But would that have been what the voters wanted? In all likelihood, the second, third and fourth choices of the Republican voters likely would have been other Republicans.
By arbitrarily eliminating the third through tenth place finishers in a primary, Proposition 121 would lead to the wrong result. For example, if the first two finishers each drew 24% of the vote, but were detested by the other 52% of the voters, and none of the other eight candidates drew more than 23% of the vote, the voters would face a Hobson's choice in the general. Admittedly, this can occur under the current system, but at least the members of each party have the chance to nominate the candidate to best represent their views. Proposition 121 replaces the prospect of a crazy Democrat facing a crazy Republican in the general with the even worse prospect of two crazies from the same party facing each other in the general.
Ironically, with readily available technology, the concept of Proposition 121 could be implemented without this flaw, and at a dramatically reduced cost by eliminating the second election. The procedure is known as ranked voting or "instant runoff." Under that system, each voter ranks his or her votes. When the votes are tabulated, if no candidate garners more than 50%, the last place finisher is removed and the second choices of his or her voters are counted. The process is repeated until one candidated reaches 50% + 1. Creating the software to perform this task would be a simple endeavor.
Consider how that would work in the CD9 race or, better yet, in the example where the two destestable candidates are the top two. As the last place finishers dropped off, their second choice votes would catapault other candidates above the detestable candidates, and the will of the voters ultimately would be recognized.
There's another huge advantage to the instant runoff. It allows voters to choose the candidate who best represents their views without fear that they're wasting their votes. If that candidate loses, their second choice votes would count. Undoubtedly, the vote totals of Libertarians, Greens and other third party candidates would improve under such a system. Ultimately, we'd see third party candidates win elections.
Back to Proposition 121. With such a better and cheaper alternative available, why did Proposition 121's proponents take the route they did? I don't trust them.