Waiting for Chad Mayes

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)

We completely screwed up California’s election system, and all we got was one lousy independent.

After a decade of the miserable election experiment known as the top-two, the election to the state assembly of Chad Mayes, a former Republican turned independent, is the only consolation prize.

That ought to embarrass backers of the top-two system. After all, changing our elections to a two-round contest—with all the candidates on the ballot in the first round, and a run-off between the top-two in November—was supposed to advance moderation and independent candidates.

But Mayes, in winning election as an independent to a seat he had previously won as a Republican, is the only independent to win a state election in California in the first decade of top two. Indeed, Mayes made history not just in our state. He’s the only person who is not a Democrat and not a Republican to win a state election in any top-two state.

His election, in other words, is not some ratification of top two. It’s the exception that proves the rule about top-two. It advantages more extreme candidates of both parties.

Because Mayes is not just the first independent to win under top-two. He might well be the last.

Let his victory mark the moment for real electoral reform, with multi-member districts and proportional representation. America desperately needs to move away from polarized, winner-take-all election systems, including top two. If we want significant independence and moderation, we’ll need multi-party coalition politics.

And not just one independent elected every 10 years.

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