Another Peculiar Victory for Top Two

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Top two has scored another victory for its supporters, which is to say there’s been yet another defeat for California democracy.

This dubious victory was in the Santa Clarita Valley, where a March election advanced two Republicans to November’s run-off elections. This happened in a district currently represented by a Democrat.

What happened?

Top two.

The ballot had only two Republicans—one got over 30 percent, and the other over 18 percent. But it had five Democrats, who split the vote almost perfectly. So the two Republicans advance.

Judging by the percentages of votes, Democrats and Republicans are relatively evenly split in the district. In a rational system, there would be one Democrat and Republican advancing. In a truly democratic system, of course, there would be split representation, but such proportional systems make too much sense to be considered sensible in the United States.

We are now 10 years into the top-two regime in California. I’ve been told for years by top two backers that in time, Californians would figure it out. We’ve been told that this would make our politics more competitive and more moderate.

None of that has happened.

It’s time to stop complaining about top two—and to end the experiment entirely.

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