What People are Saying about the “Top Two” Primary

Los Angeles Times Editorial – February 20, 2009:
A ballot measure to adopt open primaries, in which voters would cast their in a single primary and the top two finishers would meet in the general election regardless of party affiliation, would allow the majority of centrist Californians to assert their voices and no longer be represented, poorly, by the increasingly extremist wings of the Democratic and Republican parties. If voters adopt such a system, perhaps candidates from both parties will worry more about seeking consensus than about ideological purity or special-interest patronage.

San Francisco Chronicle Editorial – February 20, 2009:
The idea [of an open primary] is that all candidates, both state and congressional, run in a single primary. The top two vote-getters then meet in the general election. Combined with the redistricting reform measure that California voters passed last November, open primaries could provide for the election of more moderate legislators in Sacramento. Legislators who are elected on the strength of broader constituencies may feel more incentive to compromise.

San Jose Mercury News Editorial – February 19, 2009:
Political parties hate open primaries, for they will loosen their grip on the Legislature while producing more pragmatic and independent legislators. So they and their supporters — unions allied with Democrats, anti-tax groups behind Republicans — will campaign against the plan. The past four months of brinkmanship at the Capitol, with furloughs and a precipitous drop in California’s credit rating, prove the case for reform.

Los Angeles Daily News Editorial – February 19, 2009:
California voters have already endorsed open primaries – which allow people to vote for candidates of any political party in a primary, and then the top two candidates compete in the general election. Proposition 198 in 1996 established an open primary system, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2000. The theory is that most Californians are politically moderate, but the current closed primary system tends to favor hard-line candidates from both parties. Open primaries could result in more centrist candidates who would, potentially, be willing to buck their political party and compromise on the hot-button issues (such as taxes or spending cuts) that have held up the budget this year.

Santa Cruz Sentinel Editorial – February 20, 2009:
The open primary is an intriguing idea — voters would be free to vote for candidates regardless of party affiliation. The top two finishers would face off in the general election. The idea is to cut down on the out-of-control partisanship that has kept California in chronic budget crises. But an open primary will be opposed by Democratic legislators, who, as the majority party, have little reason to concede anything to Republicans. Democratic Party leaders already have opposed the redistricting reform approved by voters in November.

Santa Rosa Press Democrat Editorial – November 12, 2008:
California voters adopted an open primary in 1996, but it was attacked by the political parties (a rare show of unity on their part) and overturned in court. This year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Washington’s method, which places all candidates on a single ballot with the top two, regardless of party affiliation, advancing to the general election. That’s a worthy model for California to adopt.

Contra Costa Times Editorial – November 13, 2008:
A single open primary ballot would encourage moderation. In heavily Democratic districts, candidates would have to consider the interests of Republicans and independents. The reverse would be true in Republican districts, where GOP candidates would have to recognize the views of Democrats…The result is likely to be an election of far more moderate and independent officeholders who would be more open to cooperation instead of the partisan stand-offs that now dominate the Legislature…California should seriously consider such a primary system. The current one leaves much to be desired.

Alan Zaremberg, President and CEO of the CalChamber – February 19, 2009:
The balanced approach adopted by the Legislature includes another important reform — the open primary. If Californians adopt the open primary system, voters in legislative districts will finally have the opportunity to elect candidates who represent the broadest views in the district.

Greg Lippe, Chairman of VICA – February 20, 2009:
The state needs significant reforms to avoid future budget crises. Putting an amendment to establish an open primary system on the ballot is a big step in the right direction. An open primary combined with the recently-passed independent redistricting proposition will have a real chance to avoid future deadlocks and create a legislature that is composed of more moderate lawmakers who can work together effectively for the common good of all Californians.

Jim Boren of the Fresno Bee – February 22, 2009
The open primary would be a victory for mainstream California because candidates would have to be more moderate to win. The extremists in both parties got us into this budget mess. The best part of the open primary is that it would lessen the influence of the major parties, which are now under control of the special interests. The Democrats do the bidding of the public employee unions and the Republicans take their marching order from corporate interests.

Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee – October 29, 2008:
The key thing is that in both the primary and general elections, candidates would have to appeal to a broad cross-section of voters rather than only the highly partisan niche that controls the primaries today…Californians have been moving in a nonpartisan direction themselves, ahead of the politicians. Nearly 20 percent of voters now register as members of no party. That number that has been growing fast, especially among the young…In a decentralized world where people are taking more control of their music, their television sets, their education and their information, it is natural that they will want to take back control of their political decisions as well.

George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times – November 13, 2008:
Next up in efforts to untangle the partisan gridlock and make the state Capitol more functional: A probable ballot initiative in 2010 to return state elections to some form of open primary system. All candidates would compete in the same primary and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to the November runoff — similar to the way local officials are elected…The idea is to force candidates in the primary to appeal to a wider swath of voters than merely their own party members. Presumably that would result in the election of more pragmatic moderates…California had another version of an open primary system in 1998, but the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Since then, Washington state has adopted a “top two” system that the Supreme Court has sanctioned. And that’s the model for California reformers.

Lois Henry of the Bakersfield Californian – February 23, 2009:
Besides giving voters more choice, many political reformers believe an open primary would produce more moderate candidates instead of the wild-eyed ideologues now roaming the Capitol who create more confrontation than forward movement. Even in lopsided districts where one party vastly outnumbers the other, the theory is that if you had a slate full of Democrats, the strongest candidate would be one who also appealed to moderate or even conservative voters in order to win a slot in the general election.

John Myers of KQED’s Capitol Notes – September 30, 2008:

Political watchers know well that the single fastest growing, and most influential, group of Californians are those who decline to pick a party when they register to vote. As such, there may soon be a new push to reshape state elections in favor of non-partisan politics, while pushing the major parties to the side…The [open primary] system doesn’t mean there won’t be candidates with a “D” or “R” beside their name, but it obviously changes the dynamics of state elections. It also means that a November election could pit two non-partisan candidates against each other… thus leaving voters to consider two candidates solely on the issues that arise in that campaign.