Concerns about California’s Top Two Primary System

Apropos of an article in the Los Angeles Times about the number of Republicans who plan to sit out this fall’s election of a new U.S. Senator from California given that the contest is between two Democrats as the result of California’s top two primary system, I am beginning to question the wisdom of that system.


Republican voters taking a pass on California’s U.S. Senate race, poll finds

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, left, and California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris. (Associated Press)

Not only am I concerned about the wisdom of California’s top two primary system, I am also concerned about the national Democratic Party’s turn against SuperDelegates.

My concerns about these matters are rooted in my increasing distrust of primaries and a belief that they may be overrated as instruments of democracy because such a small percentage of the electorate actually participates in them. Caucuses are even worse.

We need to think clearly about which voting systems actually are the most reflective of the public’s will and the public interest.

As I recall, the theory behind the top two primary system was that it would bring about a situation in which more moderate candidates ultimately appeared on the general election ballot. Instead of each party having its own primary in which more extreme candidates were chosen, the top two primary system would presumably lead to the nomination of more moderate general election candidates because the candidates would need to build broader more moderate coalitions to finish in the top two in the primaries.

But voter turnout is notoriously small in primaries. Furthermore, given that small turnout, if the top two come from the same party, will that lead voters in the other party who didn’t participate in the primary to feel disenfranchised? It could be argued that those voters should have participated in the primary. But the reality is that most voters do not participate in primaries. In fact, even the percentage of those who participate in the general election is often unimpressive.

My concern is that, while there is something to be said for the top two primary system, it may leave a significant number of voters feeling left out at general election time. That seems to be the case this year in the U.S. Senatorial contest in California.

As for the SuperDelegate issue, call me old school if you like, but, here too, given the small number of Party members who actually vote in primaries and the ability of a well organized minority to possibly control the primaries, and even more so the caucuses, I believe that giving Party officials a vote in the nominating process provides a check of sorts against unanticipated and conceivably unrepresentative voting patterns. For these reasons we occasionally require super majorities to bring about change and the U.S. Senate is representative of state “equality” and not at all reflective of one person — one vote representation of the American electorate.

Like what you read? Give Donald A Newman a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.