‘Open Primaries’ Lauds CA’s ‘Jungle’ Primary

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Open Primaries, a national political reform organization, released a paper championing California’s “jungle” or “top-two” nonpartisan primary system, which was implemented in 2012.

The authors–Jason D. Olson, Director of IndependentVoice.Org, and Omar H. Ali, an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who serves on the national Board of Directors of IndependentVoting.org–offer a series of claims to support their position, including:

  1. California elections have become the most competitive in the nation because a record number of incumbents have been defeated;
  2. Independents are eligible to vote in the primaries, thus forcing candidates to look beyond their party’s base;
  3. Because legislators must reach out to a broader swath of voters, they reach out to a wider political spectrum while in office.

The paper noted that “political observers around the country have been impressed with the relative lack of acrimony in California’s legislature, compared with both Congress and California’s own recent history.”

(Of course, the fact the California has rapidly become a one-party state might account for the collegiality as well.)

The paper does admit that “opponents of Top Two often point to same-party races as evidence of a lack of competition under the system,” but then attempts to mitigate that claim by offering, “same-party races actually produced 50% of the total incumbent defeats from 2012 to 2014 and forced many formerly “safe” elected officials to face legitimate challenges.”

Yet a little later, the paper allows, “Under the new Top Two system, election districts with high Democratic or Republican voter registration now have a significant chance of producing a general election between two candidates of the dominant party …”.

Significantly, the papers’ two case studies feature races between two Democrats: 2012’s election between Democratic incumbent Michael Allen and Democrat Marc Levine in the 10th Assembly District seat; and 2015’s election between Democrats Steve Glazer and Susan Bonilla for the 7th State Senate District seat.

When the paper noted a Republican uniting with Democrats, it showed the GOP representative capitulating (of course)–specifically, when Republican State Senator Anthony Cannella sided with Democrats to co-sponsor legislation permitting undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses.

Shockingly, the paper noted that among the ever-burgeoning number of blue voters in the state, “Public approval has risen to its highest levels since 2001…42% of Californians now approve of their state legislature (up from 14% in 2010) and 44% now disapprove (down from 72% in 2010).”

In 2014, the top-two system did not make much difference in what is now a one-party state: the tidal wave of support for Republicans nationally did not elicit a teardrop of GOP success in California, as only 14 Republicans were elected in the state’s 53 congressional districts.

Only two races featured Republicans as the top two candidates, while five candidates featured two Democrats. Of the 14 races Republicans won, only two winning candidates were not incumbents.


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