Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

The Media Continues to Get Top-Two Primary Wrong

Created: 20 April, 2015
Updated: 15 October, 2022
3 min read

Editor's note: The article below initially said that Nebraska does not have a top-two system, which is true for many of its elections. However, it does have a form of top-two for state legislative races and the article has been updated to clarify this fact.


FLORIDA -- The New Times Broward-Palm Beach reported Friday that a nonpartisan group, All Voters Vote Inc., will be leading a petition drive to get the top-two primary on the 2016 general election ballot in Florida.

All Voters Vote Inc., a Tallahassee-based group, filed a petition that would make Florida a "top-two" primary state. In this process — which is the model in Nebraska, Louisiana, Washington, and California — all candidates, regardless of party, run against one another in an open primary. The two candidates with the most votes in the first round then run against each other in the general election. - New Times Broward-Palm Beach, April 17, 2015

However, the above paragraph alone highlights a lingering problem in the media: many media outlets do not get "Top-Two."

First, to be clear, Nebraska does not have a top-two system for many of its races. It has party primary elections like most states in the country for presidential, congressional, and many state-level races. Who is allowed to participate in what primary depends on the election.



In federal races, voters must cast a ballot in their party's primary. If a voter is registered unaffiliated, he or she can cast a ballot in one of the party's primaries. In state-level races, unaffiliated voters can participate in the Democratic primary, but are barred from the Republican primary.

Nebraska does, however, have a form of top-two for state legislative races. The difference between this system and other similar systems is that candidates do not run under a party label.

California and Washington state are the only two states listed that have the same primary system -- a nonpartisan, top-two primary in which all voters and candidates, regardless of party affiliation, participate on a single primary ballot ahead of the general election in November. The top two vote-getters (again, regardless of political affiliation) move on to the general election in November.

This system applies to congressional, statewide, and state legislative races.

Louisiana holds its first round of voting in November, essentially eliminating the primary process as we know it. All candidates, regardless of party affiliation, are listed on the general election ballot. If a candidate garners over 50 percent of the vote, he or she is the winner. If no candidate is able to reach the 50-percent-plus-one threshold, then a runoff election is held in December.

The system in Louisiana and the systems in California and Washington state are in no way the same; yet U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer also confused them in a New York Times op-ed advocating nonpartisan election reform in July 2014.



The New Times quoted Schumer in its article as well.

Here is the summary of the All Voters Vote Inc. petition:

"Replaces closed political party primaries for congressional and state partisan elective offices with primaries where all qualified registered voters may vote regardless of party affiliation of the voter or candidate. Qualified candidates appear on one ballot. The top two vote getters per office advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Candidates nominated by a party appear on the ballot as that party’s nominee; other candidates may indicate their party preference on the ballot."

Read the full text here.

The proposed election reform in Florida is similar to the systems in California and Washington state. It looks nothing like the system in Nebraska and only vaguely resembles the system in Louisiana. It is important that we make these clear distinctions because voters in Florida and other states aren't getting the right information to make an informed opinion.

Photo Source: Reuters