Thursday, May 31, 2018

CA Top-Two Primary Needs RCV

In a 2010 Ballot Initiative, Californians voted to Adopt a New Primary System, Candidates from All Parties in the State compete together in a Single Primary Ballot. The Top-Two Vote-Getters then square off against one another in the General Election, no matter which Party they’re from.

This unusual System has already resulted in a number of Federal Races without a Republican Candidate at all, most notably in 2016 when Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez were the only Two Major Party Candidates on the General Election Ballot for a Senate Seat. But this year, with the focus on a Number of pivotal House Races, it could be Democrats who get burned.

The Ballot Initiative was backed mostly by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and some key Business Players, and was opposed by the Left, including the State’s powerful Teachers Union, as well as by the Leaders of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. Its boosters wanted to send more Moderate Politicians to Sacramento. Some Reformists believed it might also increase the typically abysmal Turnout for Primaries.

The limited Academic Research on the Top-Two Primary system suggests it is failing at both of these goals. Turnout Declined in the first Two Statewide Primaries held under the Top-Two Rules. In particular, the Reform does not seem to Boost the Fortunes of more Moderate Candidates, because as one 2013 Study Found, Primary Voters, especially when faced with a multitude of Candidates, “failed to discern ideological differences between extreme and moderate candidates of the same party.”

Those are the Problems from the perspective of Democratic Theory. But for California Democrats in 2018, the Reform has another obvious vulnerability. If too many Candidates from One Party are running in the Primary, they can Split their Party’s Voters several ways and allow the other Party to Win the Top-Two Spots with Small Pluralities.

Democrats who once salivated at the prospect of Excluding GOP Candidates altogether might now get stuck with this very problem in the State’s June 5th Primary. In several Districts that Democrats hoped to Flip or that would otherwise be Total Wins for the Party, there are so many People Running that Voters might not be able to Coalesce around Two or even One. One such Seat is that of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, in California’s 48th District, where Eight Democrats are vying for the chance to Replace the unpopular Republican. It’s possible that none of the Eight will finish in the Top-Two Spots.

Despite the Panicked Intervention of National Democrats, not enough Candidates have gotten out of these Races to avoid the worst outcome. With Democrats locked in a bitter battle to wrest Control of the House from a venal GOP Majority bent on Protecting President Trump at all Costs, this is a nightmare scenario for the Party. They can ill afford to toss away a Single Winnable Seat due to too-clever-by-half Electoral Rules.

There are Two very simple ways out of the mess created by the Top-Two Primary System. The first would be to toss it in the trash and go back to the Old Method of conducting Separate Partisan Primaries for Democrats and Republicans, a System for which Turnout Failings could be better addressed with Reforms like Election Holidays and the State’s New Automatic Voter Registration Laws.

Failing a Return to the Old Order, Californians interested in more Democratic Elections need to Mobilize behind a New Ballot Initiative to conduct all Top-Two Primaries using Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV). With this method, Voters can Rank-Order their preferred Candidates. If their First choice is Eliminated, their Ballot is Not Thrown Away but rather Redistributed to their Second choice Candidate, or the Third choice, and so on.

This system has been adopted by a number of U.S. Cities and in Maine this year, would make it possible for a Large Field of energized Democratic Candidates to Compete against one another without fearing that they will so Dilute the Vote as to make Republicans the Top-Two in Districts that should be Competitive. RCV would also give Voters a chance to Vote their Hearts, perhaps for a Candidate from Outside of the Two-Party System altogether, without worrying about wasting their Votes.

Regardless of what happens on June 5th, California should take the lead once again on Electoral Reform by adopting use of RCV for its Top-Two Primary Elections. Once Voters see that Preferential Voting can work, they may be more willing to entertain the idea of using this method to Open Up the Political Process to Third Parties and Independents, as a Majority of Americans say they desire.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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