As voters and pundits sift through the results of a very intense and divisive midterm election, one thing has become quite clear: the state’s experiment with the Top-Two primary system has failed. This arrangement, in which the two candidates with the most votes in the June primary, regardless of party, advance to the general election in November, has not lived up to its expectations and instead has produced a number of distinct complications that were not present before Top-Two’s enactment. Thus, the new primary system is detrimental to California and should be repealed.

The first problem is that the new system has not achieved its main goal of diminishing partisanship. In 2009, then-state assemblyman Abel Maldonado, a moderate Republican, used his leverage to break a deadlock over the state budget. In exchange for his vote, legislative leaders put his Top-Two proposal on the 2010 ballot, and voters approved it by 54-46 percent.

Maldonado’s goal was to prevent a recurrence of the partisan budget battles that had taken place during the 2000s by forcing politicians to appeal to a broader group of voters. In doing so, they would have to move to the political center, with the result being that moderate candidates would dominate the legislature. This outcome has not, in fact, occurred, as legislation that would never have passed under moderate governance (such as the plastic bag ban and the escalation of cap- and-trade) has been approved. Indeed, studies support this observation, showing that the Top- Two system has had little-to-no impact on partisanship at all. Top-Two is thus flawed in achieving its primary goal.

The second problem is that Top-Two has effectively given voters less choice ideologically. Because the Democrats dominate California politics, Republicans have increasingly found it difficult to compete in races across the state. As a result, voters are often left to choose between two different shades of Democrat or Republican which, for partisan voters, is not a real choice. This year, for example, Republicans were locked out in races for U.S. Senate and Lieutenant Governor, leaving two very liberal Democrats to fight it out in each race. While these contests would not have been competitive, voters were robbed of a genuine alternative to liberalism. This phenomenon is even more harmful down ballot because it leads to the election of representatives out of step with the partisan leanings of their district.

In 2012, for example, Gary Miller was elected representative for the 31st Congressional District after he was one of two Republicans to make the runoff, even though the district leaned Democratic by six points. Likewise, this year saw Tasha Boerner Horvath win the 76th Assembly District because she was one of two Democrats to make the runoff, despite the fact that the Democrats only have a 2,000-voter advantage in the district. Top-Two has thus distorted voters’ options and produced outcomes contrary to the political makeup of particular districts.

The third problem is that Top-Two has created incentives for politicians to game the system. With outcomes uncertain under the new structure, competing politicians and parties have increasingly sought to manipulate it to their advantage, with the result that their quest for raw power is on full display. For example, some people accused the Republican Party of trying to manipulate the 2018 primary in the 48th Congressional District because Republican Scott Baugh challenged incumbent Dana Rohrabacher, also a Republican. Though Baugh denied accusations of gamesmanship, this development would have secured the seat for the GOP in June if both candidates had advanced. Similarly, the gubernatorial primary saw Democrat Gavin Newsom run ads touting Republican opponent John Cox’s conservative bona fides in order to prevent Democratic rival Antonio Villaraigosa from securing the second spot on the November ballot. Thus, Top-Two has increased the pettiness of California’s politics, a major defect in its implementation.

The three major issues mentioned above have all appeared since Top-Two was implemented and closely pertain to its structure. Clearly, then, the Top-Two system is the primary cause of these problems, and they will only get worse as long as it remains in effect. What, then, is to be done?

California must abandon Top-Two and return to its previous party-oriented system (all by means of ballot initiative). The reasons for this are simple: partisanship will continue with or without Top-Two, voters are more likely to have a genuine choice on the ballot, and politicians will not be motivated to game the system in such an obvious and cringe-worthy way. The state’s politics would then become less chaotic and more palatable to voters. As such, Californians should support a ballot measure to repeal Top-Two and end the defects that stem from this flawed system.