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Third Party Advocates Opposing Top Two

by Chad Peace, published

From A Back Room Budget Deal earlier this year means the so-called "Top-Two" Primary will be voted on by California citizens.

The vote would institute a Washington state style "Top-Two" system, in which the top two vote getters in the primary are the only names to appear on the November ballot -even if that means only one political party is represented.

Free & Equal board member Richard Winger writes in Ballot Access News:

California newspaper reporters and political columnists have mentioned recently that Californians will be voting on the "top-two" system in June 2010. These articles constantly repeat the idea that the California legislature is now filled with ideologues of the left and right, and that "top-two" will replace them with "moderates" (these articles also constantly refer to "top-two" as "the open primary").

History suggests that "top-two" won't replace "ideologues" with "moderates." In 1996, the voters of California passed an initiative for the "blanket primary", and that system was used in the primaries of 1998 and 2000. The "blanket primary" is identical to the "top-two" system, in the operation of the primary and the primary ballot. In both systems, all primary voters get an identical ballot, a ballot that lists all candidates of all parties (although under the blanket primary, independents did not run in the primary). The big difference between the blanket primary and top-two is that in a blanket primary system, the top vote-getter from each party goes on the November ballot.

In the California 1998 primary, not one incumbent state legislator was defeated for re-nomination. If the proponents of a top-two primary were correct, there should have been many state legislators defeated in the 1998 primary. After all, the primaries of 1996 (which had elected all Assembly members) and the primaries of 1994 and 1996 (which had elected all Senators), were completely closed. Independent voters could not vote in those primaries.

Top-two proponents say that California legislative districts are so gerrymandered, the same party always wins the general election for state legislature. They also say that the "ideologues" win the primaries because the "moderate" independents are locked out of the primaries. But, the evidence from 1998 disputes that.

Every argument that the proponents of the Top-Two Primary put forward has been refuted. The fact is, that Democrats, Republicans, minor parties, and independents all agree: the Top-Two Primary is a bad idea.

The Top-Two Primary was defeated by the voters of Oregon this past election. In the year to come, Free & Equal Elections will work to coordinate with other like-minded organizations to ensure that the Top Two Primary is defeated in California as well. Free & Equal will also announce a series of public forums about the Top Two Primary in California in the coming weeks.

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