It's time to repeal the top-two primary in California, by @DavidOAtkins

It's time to repeal the top-two primary in California

by David Atkins

In case you haven't heard by now, California voters saw fit to enact a "top two" primary system several years ago. The "top two" system means that whoever the top two vote getters are advance, regardless of political party. Even if they're both of the same political party.

This has two fairly obvious effects: 1) it eliminates third parties from contention long in advance of the general election; and 2) in safe partisan districts it very often means expensive and mostly pointless intra-party contests all the way through November. If you're interested in progressive primaries it doesn't even help, since a long November intra-party fight tends to go to the institutional candidate with more money.

So why did California do it? Ostensibly to allow more "moderate" and non-partisan candidates to advance. This idea springs from the mistaken notion that there are huge number of "moderate" and "independent" voters out there desperate to vote for candidates not on offer by the political parties. I've deconstructed this fallacy before: most "independents" are just as partisan as registered partisans if not more so. They just choose for cultural reasons not to register with a political party, and pollsters then throw all these "independents" into an aggregate that looks like it's more moderate than the electorate because....well, that's what happens when you put a bunch of liberals and conservatives in a single group and ask them what they think in aggregate.

Not surprisingly, the top-two primary hasn't resulted in a single non-partisan candidate advancing to higher office. Even if you supported its third way-style objective, it has been an abject failure at accomplishing that objective.

But it has helped make a mockery of democracy by allowing Republicans to squeak into office in majority Democratic districts without even allowing a Democrat on the November ballot. That happens when two Republicans square off against a host of Democrats, and end up the top two despite not collectively garnering 50% of the vote. That happened two years ago in California's 31st district, and almost happened again in the same district this Tuesday.

And then there's this near disaster in the California Controller's race:

(Disclosure: my brother serves as campaign manager for John Perez, one of the Democrats in the race)

For most of election night it appeared likely that both Republicans would advance to the statewide ballot in November despite not clearing more than 45% of the overall vote between them, and despite an extreme unlikelihood that either Republican would survive the November election against either of the leading Democrats.

This is insane and should not be allowed to continue. The top-two primary is a terrible idea, enacted for bad reasons based on faulty assumptions, with terrible unintended consequences.

It's time to repeal it.