California's Electoral Reform Sees Rise of One-Party Elections

Monday, 10 Feb 2014 09:48 AM

By Melanie Batley

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Reforms to California's elections are putting political parties in the background under a new system in which only the top two vote winners in the open primaries get a place on the general election ballot, regardless of party.

Since the changes were instituted in 2012, voters are often finding themselves forced to choose between candidates within the same party. Candidates, in turn, must run less partisan campaigns to achieve the broader public appeal necessary for a victory, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"It's the really big news of 2014" in California politics, Tony Quinn, a veteran political analyst told the Times. "I think we're going to have a historic number of same-party runoffs."

The one-party trend is most apparent in legislative races, where nearly a fifth of the 100 contests for the Legislature could become highly competitive one-party runoffs, according to the Times. In 2012, there were 28 same-party runoffs in legislative and congressional races.

Quinn estimates there will be 17 potentially competitive same-party runoffs this year — 14 in the Assembly and three in the Senate, all for seats being vacated by incumbents.

The goal of the top-two system is to create less partisan elections leading to less divisive governance, and according to the Times, there is already evidence that those aims are being achieved.

"In order to run successfully in the top-two primary, you have to talk to people in the other party. That's a good habit to develop before you go to Sacramento or Washington," Dan Schnur, a former GOP strategist who is running as an independent for secretary of state, told the Times.

"It changes the way people legislate. They don't have to spend their whole life looking over their shoulder wondering whether the [party] base is mad at them."

The reforms, however, have come at a heavy cost for Republicans who are struggling to attract both the candidates and the votes in Democratic-dominated districts, though Democrats also struggle in solidly GOP districts.

In some cases, particularly on the Democratic side, moderate candidates have been bullied by their own party as one faction, such as organized labor, attempts to forcefully install its preferred candidate. Garry South, a Democratic strategist, said that this unintended byproduct of the reforms could be a problem for the Democrats.

"If labor continues to do that, it's going to have a deleterious effect on the Democratic coalition and sour relations between organized labor and some members of the Legislature," South told the Times.

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