Is CA Better Off Under the Top-Two System?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Since voters approved the top two primary in June 2010, the system has been praised, criticized and analyzed with varying degree of intensity but without a consensus about whether it improved democracy in California. More analysis is coming this Friday as the Schwarzenegger Institute at the University of Southern California is hosting a discussion of the U.S. Senate race that featured two Democrats vying for the prestigious and powerful post.

Attorney General and Democrat Kamala Harris bested Congresswoman and Democrat Loretta Sanchez by nearly 3 million votes out of about 11.5 million votes cast. However, about 2 million voters skipped over that race when voting. Politico Senior Reporter David Siders will moderate the discussion between Sanchez strategist Bill Carrick and Harris strategist Sean Clegg.

For the business community, the top two primary has altered strategy as independent committees funded by business groups focus on helping to elect business friendly Democrats. Has the top two strategy affected the type of legislators elected to office? Marginally among the Democrats in the many legislative races, Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute told John Myers of the Los Angeles Times. Is marginally enough of a gain for the business community?

The Schwarzenegger Institute event focusing on a statewide race may have clues for potential future statewide races in which same party candidates square off. The governor’s race in 2018 being the biggest prize on the calendar as numerous candidates are lining up to run which could result in two candidates from the same party vying for the corner office. And that party may not be the one you would expect in this Democratic heavy state.

Remember that in the 2014 state controller’s race an additional 30,000 votes for little known Republican David Evans would have resulted in all-Republican runoff with Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who ran first on primary election day. Multiple candidates could split votes sufficiently among the many contenders which could produce unexpected results.

The top two primary came about as a budget compromise was worked out in 2009 under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The institute that bears his name monitors the outcomes of reforms he promoted during his governorship including redistricting reform as well as the top two primary.

For more information on the time and location of the top two primary discussion at USC go here.

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