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More Evidence Shows Nonpartisan Primaries Enhance Voter Representation

by Caitlin Hurkes, published

The early successes of California's nonpartisan, top-two primary are paving the way toward increased voter representation and decreased partisan gridlock. What this means for all voters is that they finally have a voice when it comes to deciding their representatives, who are supposed to put their constituents before party interests or re-election goals.

Open Primaries released findings Tuesday articulating the benefits the nonpartisan, top-two primary -- authored by the Independent Voter Project -- has had on California elections and the state legislature since its enactment in the 2012 election cycle.

Jason Olson and Omar Ali conclude that the nonpartisan system enhances representation for all voters rather than just party-affiliated voters, and produces a functioning legislature as well as competitive elections.

By 2010, the approval rating of the California legislature was just 14 percent, the report states. It was in this atmosphere that the majority of California voters (54%) approved the nonpartisan, top-two primary under Proposition 14, despite substantial efforts by the Republican and Democratic parties to continue the status quo of semi-closed primaries.

According to the report, 42 percent of Californians now approve of the state legislature. This figure has steadily climbed since the new primary system was enacted. One study shows the legislature's approval rating at 

49 percent.

Before Top-Two, incumbents were guaranteed re-election if they voted along party lines. From 2002 to 2010, only two incumbents were unseated from office, the report says.

Top-Two allows representatives the opportunity to actually legislate on behalf of their constituents. The report states that candidates have more independence from party control and no longer need to toe-the-party-line. Candidates are reaching across the aisle to work together rather than remaining locked into partisan-dominated ideological corners.

Californian Republican State Senator Anthony Cannella stated that the nonpartisan, top-two primary gives "more courage to my Republican colleagues." He continued, "They were afraid of getting primaried. Now, it’s not just their base they have to appeal to.”

Every year since the nonpartisan, top-two primary was enacted, the state legislature has passed balanced budgets. Moreover, legislation on gun control, immigration, and educational financing -- what remain heavily partisan issues in Congress -- were able to pass in California as a consequence of Top-Two.

One of the most important indicators of a well-functioning representative democracy is a government that is responsive to the needs of its people and can operate efficiently and effectively. What proponents of Top-Two believe and what research has shown is that the best way to ensure a government operates the way it is supposed to is by making sure lawmakers are accountable to ALL of their constituents, not just a minority bloc of voters.

Photo Credit: Patricia Marroquin /

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