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California's new election rules (Prop. 14)
October 28, 2012 10:31 AM   Subscribe

California begins its "top two primary" runoff. Called a blanket primary, open primary, jungle primary, the top-two primary seeks to end partisan gridlock by having one primary for all voters in June, where the top two candidates face off in November, regardless of party affiliation. Said to favor moderates while hurting small parties, Arizona votes on a similar measure next week.

Currently in California:
For the U.S. Senate seat, there remains one incumbent Democrat and one Republican challenger.
For the 53 U.S. House contests, 41 (77%) have one Republican and one Democrat, 6 (11%) have two Democrats, 2 (4%) have two Republicans, and 4 (7%) have an independent or no party affiliation with a Democrat (3) or Republican (1).
For the 20 State Senate contests, 16 (80%) have one Republican and one Democrat, 2 (10%) have two Democrats, 0 have two Republicans, and 2 (10%) have an independent or no party affiliation with a Democrat.
For the 80 State House contests, 58 (73%) have one Republican and one Democrat, 11 (14%) have two Democrats, 7 (11%) have two Republicans, and 4 (5%) have an independent or no party affiliation with a Democrat.
posted by Brian B. (41 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
It'd be sweet if it passed here in AZ. I really believe this is the first step to reforming our system and taking control away from the partisan extremists.
posted by ph00dz at 10:48 AM on October 28, 2012


That's pretty interesting. I think there's a lot more room for different parties at a local level - here in michigan, I can't find pretty much any reason to vote for the democratic candidates over the green candidates.
posted by rebent at 10:52 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


They already have this in WA don't they? What affect does it have there?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:58 AM on October 28, 2012


It'd be sweet if it passed here in AZ.

Not to fall in to lazy stereotyping, but won't it just give you a choice between two different flavored of Tea Party maniac?
posted by Artw at 10:58 AM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Art I think having a choice between a radical and a moderate within one of the big parties is much better than the current situations in single party dominated states.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:59 AM on October 28, 2012


This seems like a pretty poor substitute for actual preferential voting (like STV). It excludes people from a ballot paper on which they could win.

The fact that a quarter of state house seats have a choice of two candidates from the same party seems to illustrate that. That's not progress. If you're a partisan Democrat where there are two Republican candidates, or vice versa, why not vote for the one who would find it harder to be re-elected next time, i.e. the most extreme one?
posted by imperium at 10:59 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see this for local elections here in PA. A lot of them end up getting decided in the primaries because only one party ever wins. When I lived in the suburbs, my township hadn't had a Democratic council person or mayor in living memory and now that I'm in the city, there hasn't been a Republican elected to city office since the 1930s. So that means that only the primary in the Spring means anything and the November election is pointless. I'd love to see a system where two Democrats could run against each other in the general election.
posted by octothorpe at 11:00 AM on October 28, 2012


Seems like a law of the incumbents, by the incumbents, and for the incumbents.
posted by ifandonlyif at 11:05 AM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


In my district this has meant two Democratic incumbents fighting it out to see who keeps their seat. And as a registered Democrat it means I've been getting nonstop flyers in the mail (at least one or two a day) despite the fact that I already sent in my absentee ballot a couple weeks ago. I can't wait for it to be over...
posted by fishmasta at 11:16 AM on October 28, 2012


They already have this in WA don't they? What affect does it have there?

Intuitively I would say that it means in my part of WA, the part over near Idaho, we'd have more elections where both candidates for the final round of voting are Republican.

But then just now I pulled out my ballot (I really should get this filled out and mailed in!), and see that there are ZERO races at any level which have that happening. A few are non-partisan offices, one is unopposed, but every partisan race which has two candidates listed has both a D and an R listed as opponents.

So.... I have no idea what effect it might be having.
posted by hippybear at 11:19 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to fall in to lazy stereotyping, but won't it just give you a choice between two different flavored of Tea Party maniac?

Arizona may be a battleground state soon.
posted by Brian B. at 11:26 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is an annoying flaw in the CA system. In 7 Congressional primaries this June, there were only two candidates, one of which won an outright majority. Those two candidates still had to fight it out until November. What a colossal waste of time and money! If there are two candidates, just declare one elected or cancel the primary!
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 11:38 AM on October 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


What is a colossal waste of time and money is two elections. Just switch to IRV and be done with it.
posted by Talez at 11:46 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This system makes some weird runoffs possible. From the blog of a PoliSci professor at UCSD:
In US House district 31, the top two candidates are both Republicans: Gary G. Miller (26.7%) and Bob Dutton (24.9%). There were four other candidates, all Democrats, and the top-scoring one, Pete Aguilar, had 22.8%, missing the runoff by just over 2 percentage points. While the two Republicans combined for a majority of the votes, they did so just barely, with 51.6%. It is not out of the question that a Democrat could have won this district–especially given the difference in turnout that we can expect, as well as the long gap between elections and the potential importance of candidate quality. But the Democrats will not get to make their case in this potentially winnable district.
posted by vasi at 11:53 AM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


So is this why I have the choice between odious Republican and loathsome Republican in my local assembly race?
posted by elsietheeel at 12:05 PM on October 28, 2012


Expanding a bit on vasi's point: I am sure proponents of the top two primary think it will lessen the influence and control of parties, but the opposite is likely true. Because there's no preferential ranking involved, the national Democrats and Republicans are incentivized to keep the number of their candidates per district as low as possible while inflating the number of opposition candidates.

National committees, especially on the Democratic side, are loath to get involved in their own primaries because it risks a lot of awkwardness, to say the least. But when these clown-car effects are in play, expect party bosses to start exerting a lot more control over nominations.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 12:20 PM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


While this system is obviously inferior to preferential voting systems like the one we have here, at least all a voter has to do is indicate a single candidate. Considering all of the nonsense you get even with such a simple system (hanging chads etc), numbered preferences would create vast new fields of opportunity for voter suppression. "The 1 on this ballot paper isn't sufficiently perpendicular to distinguish it from a backslash. Rejected!", that kind of thing.

This system makes some weird runoffs possible.

I'm not sure I understand this. Why don't the parties each run an additional pre-primary primary to make sure that they only have a single candidate in the official primary?
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:34 PM on October 28, 2012


National committees, especially on the Democratic side, are loath to get involved in their own primaries because it risks a lot of awkwardness, to say the least. But when these clown-car effects are in play, expect party bosses to start exerting a lot more control over nominations.

A family member is a staffer for one of those Democrats who is fighting another Democrat to keep the seat. They are both incumbents. The party at the national level tried really, really hard to avoid this scenario, but Democrats don't have the party discipline Republicans do.

As Will Rogers said, "I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat."
posted by ambrosia at 12:52 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


We have this in Washington state and I don't particularly like it.
posted by grouse at 1:15 PM on October 28, 2012


They already have this in WA don't they? What affect does it have there?

Washington has had several different primary systems in the last ten years or so— it had a completely open primary for most of a century, but the parties don't like that so they got it outlawed; then it had a closed, you-must-register-with-a-party primary like some other states have, but the voters don't like that; I think there was some other odd system for a year, and for the past few elections we've had a top-two primary. This is, as imperium says, a substitute for something like IRV or STV, and I think it's an improvement on the earlier systems.

In practice, what usually seems to happen is that one candidate from the major parties advances to the general election, just like what would happen in a more rigidly party-based system. But in races in which one of the major parties really doesn't have a chance, it lets you choose between two candidates from the dominant party, instead of having to go with whoever the party picked.

It still allows "strategic voting" kinds of things, but (a) it seems a little less prone to that than the old open primary and (b) a lot of Washingtonians kinda consider that a feature not a bug.
posted by hattifattener at 1:28 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


In US House district 31, the top two candidates are both Republicans: Gary G. Miller (26.7%) and Bob Dutton (24.9%). There were four other candidates, all Democrats, and the top-scoring one, Pete Aguilar, had 22.8%, missing the runoff by just over 2 percentage points. While the two Republicans combined for a majority of the votes, they did so just barely, with 51.6%. It is not out of the question that a Democrat could have won this district–especially given the difference in turnout that we can expect, as well as the long gap between elections and the potential importance of candidate quality. But the Democrats will not get to make their case in this potentially winnable district.

The more moderate Republican will be chosen when liberals vote in the runoff. This is the trade-off feature they talk about.
posted by Brian B. at 1:47 PM on October 28, 2012


Under the old system, in most districts the primary decided the election because of disproportionate party affiliation, and whenever seats became open you would get at least three and usually four or five, serious, well-funded candidates in the majority party's primary. Thus the one election that would effectively decide who would have the seat for the next 4 or 6 (Assembly), 6 or 8 (State Senate), or potentially indefinite number of years (Congress) could end up being decided by a tiny fraction of the electorate -- the members of the majority party who cared to turn out in the primary, who voted for the candidate who would sometimes win with 30% or less of the vote.

Under this system, people who aren't registered in the dominant party have a voice (and sometimes a decisive voice), the decision is more likely to made in November with higher turnout, and no one wins without a clear majority.

Pretty good all around.
posted by MattD at 2:24 PM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I support third parties and I think this sounds awesome. People can vote for third parties in the primary without worrying about letting the wrong guy win, since they will get to have their final say in the main election. If a third party candidate can get on the main ticket, people can once again vote for them without letting the wrong guy win, since they only have one opponent.

Basically this legislation eliminates the main reason that third parties are unelectable. It is sad to see third parties coming out against it. They do not seem to understand why they keep failing. How can they believe that preserving the status quo is in their best interests?
posted by foobaz at 3:26 PM on October 28, 2012


If you're a partisan Democrat where there are two Republican candidates, or vice versa, why not vote for the one who would find it harder to be re-elected next time, i.e. the most extreme one?

. . . Because you believe elections matter and have real effect on the future of your area, and you have to live with the decisions the extremist make? That's like saying "Green Party people should vote for Romney so maybe the Green Party will be more favored in 2016!"

The runoff system always seemed pretty cool to me. I heard an interview on NPR where an incredulous caller kept repeated "But a Republican isn't on the ticket!" every time the commentator explained "Yes, because he didn't garner enough votes to be on the ticket." I think this is where the opposition lies--people do not realize that the power of the run-off system is not in the immediate elections but in the ones five, ten, fifteen years from now. That is when we'll hopefully start to see the payoff of a system that allows people to vote for their third-party choices without feeling they're jeopardizing the whole election and forces politicians to not go crazy lest they lose the overall election to the voters of the opposing minority parties.
posted by schroedinger at 4:13 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, it does the opposite. Now you have to vote strategically in the primary too. Say you have 3 good Democratic candidates, 1 good Green candidate, and two good Republican candidates. The liberals split their vote four ways and the Republicans split their vote two ways. Assuming a 50/50 split in primary voters' ideology, 1/2 > 1/4, the general election is a Republican vs. a Republican. So now the liberals get wise, they start talking about how the Green Party candidate spoils the primary! That sounds an awful like people talking about Green Party candidates spoiling the general election. But now, the stakes are even higher. You vote Green in the primary and you deny other people the ability to vote for someone who isn't a Republican in the general election.

This law accomplishes two things:

(1) Makes things cozier for incumbents because they don't face primary challengers from their party. Primary challengers are now spoilers, so no one favoring a particular party over the other will dare vote for the challenger.

(2) Makes it possible for you not to be able to vote for the party of your choice in the general election.
posted by ifandonlyif at 4:17 PM on October 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


ifandonlyif: So there is a marked disadvantage to fielding more than two candidates from your party. If they do present three candidates as in your example, they are acting irrationally.

The strategic thing for the Democrats to do is to decide before the primary who their best two candidates are. They could hold a pre-primary before the official blanket primary. Since this is no longer a legally controlled process, they could do it on their web site, behind closed doors with no input from the public, whatever they think is best.

If they expect competition from a third party, like a Green, it is strategic for them to only present one candidate. This defends from having the vote split, but gives up the chance to control both slots in the final election.

The way I see it, this will not actually replace primaries, as they say it will. It actually replaces our plurality election system with something strange and hacked-together that nevertheless will represent the will of the people better than a straight up plurality system. The major parties will be forced to come up with a new way to select their best candidate(s), since using this system as their primary is non-strategic.

This might seem sad if you like voting in primaries, but I don't. If they choose a bad candidate I'll just vote for a different party.
posted by foobaz at 5:29 PM on October 28, 2012


I wonder why the primary isn't an Approval Vote? That would avoid the need for pre-primaries.
posted by Jpfed at 5:45 PM on October 28, 2012


The 'Fielding two candidates is irrational' argument holds only if the parties have resource parity. If one party has twice the resources, they can field two candidates at parity and get a 100% certainty of getting one candidate, and a 33% chance of getting a lockout... If they have three times, both at 1.5x... After that, it gets ugly.
posted by Orb2069 at 5:46 PM on October 28, 2012


(2) Makes it possible for you not to be able to vote for the party of your choice in the general election.

That's how it's always been for third-party voters. Sounds to me like the new system just means that everyone gets to share the pain.
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:26 PM on October 28, 2012


And what happens if a state decides that pre-primaries are just too partisan? The whole point of primaries was for parties to figure out who to back in a general election. Now you want to kick the can down the road to a pre-primary? Seriously, if you want non-first-past-the-post voting, excellent, I support that. But don't give me a half-assed system and tell me I have a choice between Republican A and Republican B in a general election, because that's not who I want to vote for. I want to vote for the candidate representing my beliefs.

That is not how it's been for 3rd party voters. People have been able to vote for the candidate of the party of their choice in the general election. This permanently ends that. They can't even write in another person now. I think that's seriously flawed.
posted by ifandonlyif at 7:50 PM on October 28, 2012


This system limits people to one vote for two candidate slots, from a list. They should have a minimum of two votes for this purpose. It is no logically different than electing two people in the first round.
posted by Brian B. at 10:55 PM on October 28, 2012


Not to fall in to lazy stereotyping, but won't it just give you a choice between two different flavored of Tea Party maniac?
Not in California.

And somewhere where this would give a choice between two different tea-party maniacs, well, the alternative would probably be one tea party maniac guaranteed to win.

This gives voters a choice when one party dominates. Of course, they have a choice in the primary already, but most people are too lazy to bother with that.

The other thing is that while it would favor "moderates" in D.C "Moderate" means someone like Joe Lieberman, people who just favor washington beltway consensus. (i.e. just do whatever lobbyists want)
posted by delmoi at 5:57 AM on October 29, 2012


Seems like a law of the incumbents, by the incumbents, and for the incumbents.
More so than the current system, where a congressperson in a non-swing district doesn't need to worry about being challenged by someone who could beat them at all?
I'm not sure I understand this. Why don't the parties each run an additional pre-primary primary to make sure that they only have a single candidate in the official primary?
If Joe-bob democrat loses the pre-primary, the party wouldn't be able to stop them from running in the regular primary, just like the democrats weren't able to stop Joe Liberman from running in the general election in '06. (I would assume)
(1) Makes things cozier for incumbents because they don't face primary challengers from their party. Primary challengers are now spoilers, so no one favoring a particular party over the other will dare vote for the challenger.
Yeah, except incumbents hardly ever face challengers. This seems like a good way to increase the chances of having an actual fight where the majority of voters actually have a say.

That said, I could see how this could be sub-optimal for a swing district where there is a chance of either candidate winning.

But, for the vast majority of gerrymandered to hell congressional districts where the candidate from the popular party is basically guaranteed, and the incumbent is basically guaranteed to win anyway then it seems like this would actually allow for a much greater chance of actually having something happen, at least I imagine it would.
posted by delmoi at 6:07 AM on October 29, 2012


Makes it possible for you not to be able to vote for the party of your choice in the general election.

Right, but the point of this is again not to focus on the parties but on the candidates. We're hammered at with this idea that parties are so far apart in terms of policy so any two candidates from the same party are equivalent, whereas the California polity seems to be getting on board with the idea of making candidates more individually responsive to the electorate at large.
posted by psoas at 9:07 AM on October 29, 2012


I did vote for the proposition, but it does leave me in the position now of having two choices that I can't in good conscience vote for either. I would like to have a none of the above option to make it clear that I didn't just accidentally skip that section.
posted by ckape at 1:39 PM on October 29, 2012


I really like the idea of including the #2 vote-getter in the primary on the final election ballot, but I think it's a bad idea to limit the options to only the top-two candidates. I think it would be better to just include the top-two from the primary PLUS the top candidate from each party that can pass some popularity threshold.

So, if you had a primary with the following results:
31% Republican A
30% Republican B
25% Democrat A
5% Green A
5% Democrat B
4% Others (below threshold)

Then the election day ballot would include Republican A, Republican B, Democrat A, and Green A. That seems like a much better result, since you can still vote for the Democrat if you think both of the Republicans are awful.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:59 PM on October 29, 2012


I don't see how this makes things more competitive for challengers to incumbents. In the scenario where your two choices in the general election are members of a party you disagree with, you can now vote for the least extreme member. But I don't really see that changing the outcome of the election. You have members of that party's base who probably prefer the more extreme candidate, and they are the ones strongly motivated to vote. Everyone else is indifferent, or is only interested to the extent they can vote against someone. I believe the evidence says people tend to show up at the polls more when they are voting for someone and not against someone.

Political parties are really good ways for people with similar political views to organize themselves to influence elections. I don't think it's a positive to focus on candidates at the expense of not focusing on who they will vote with when elected.
posted by ifandonlyif at 4:09 PM on October 29, 2012


I just realized I confused this type of voting with Instant Runoff Voting. What are the objections to Instant Runoff Voting?
posted by schroedinger at 6:51 PM on November 6, 2012


What are the objections to Instant Runoff Voting?

IRV fails the Monotonicity Criterion: sometimes you can hurt a candidate by ranking that candidate higher on your ballot.

Here's a site that claims that IRV is even worse than plurality voting (too bad IRV is the darling of many US election reformers). That site likes Condorcet best, but considers Approval Voting to be the most realistic improvement over plurality voting. I also happen to love Approval Voting; have I mentioned that?
posted by Jpfed at 7:48 PM on November 6, 2012


Arizona defeated proposition 121.

Calfornia elected itself a Democratic super-majority, allowing the party to override vetos and rewrite the law at will.
posted by Brian B. at 5:53 PM on November 10, 2012


but considers Approval Voting to be the most realistic improvement over plurality voting.

There are a few problems with approval voting, if we desire a decisive vote among informed voters containing only sincere votes. First of all, approval voting would invite clones into the process, which some would say is a good thing, but the more you have, the more complicated voting gets. Approval voting also allows voters to vote against someone, which is done by spreading insincere votes all around, raising the likelihood of a tie. Approval voting seeks to clean up its own mess of introducing clones in one big election, which curiously allows random swarm picking from uninformed voters.

However, approval voting is probably the best method when it is limited to picking the same number of candidates for that number of spots on a council. In this limited capacity, approval voting can thus pick two runoff candidates by the same logic, by allowing two votes. What this also affords is an instant selection, avoiding a runoff, when one of the candidates gets over the 50% line with the most votes (because over half of the voters sincerely approved of the leading candidate, and that's the entire point). It also helps in a tie, because there are singular votes among the split votes, and these can determine the more solid winner.
posted by Brian B. at 7:23 PM on November 10, 2012


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