On Thursday, March 10, Sherry Bebitch Jeffe and Douglas Jeffe published a column in Reuters about the impact nonpartisan election reforms are having in California, including independent redistricting and the nonpartisan, top-two open primary (authored by the Independent Voter Project). They conclude that while California may appear to be a one-party state, it has actually become a "no party state."
A consequential change has been the implementation of the “top two” primary. Under this system, all candidates for a legislative, congressional or statewide office compete on a single primary ballot. Voters then choose between the two top vote-getters — regardless of party affiliation — in the general election. No longer are there closed primaries in which the most liberal candidate generally prevails in Democratic districts, and hard-right conservatives dominate the Republican districts. Under the new rules, campaigns increasingly look to the entire electorate in primaries, not just to the party faithful. In several legislative and congressional races, this has meant run-offs between two contenders from the same party. Independents and voters of the opposition party often hold the balance of power.
Voter approved reforms such as the nonpartisan, top-two open primary, independent redistricting commission, simple majority vote to approve a state budget, and term limit reform are highlighted as contributing factors to the "moderate California."
The authors claim that while the majority of voters are driven by positions generally supported by Democrats, because of the voter-driven measures mentioned above, the once fiercely partisan nature of the legislature has shifted toward the center. They're not sure if this is a break from the political dysfunction of the recent past or a political trend that could, as so many before have, spread nationwide.
"All things considered, though, politics and governance seem to be functioning far better in California than in Washington — or on the presidential campaign trail. At a time when “moderate” has become a dirty word on the national scene, California government is functioning — and functioning well — pretty much in the middle of the road," the authors write.
The Independent Voter Project is sponsoring a new resolution that calls for the adoption of a nonpartisan "public ballot" option in presidential primary elections in order to ensure that all voters have an opportunity to voice their preference in the presidential election, regardless of their party affiliation or preference.
The resolution would not eliminate party ballots, but would simply give voters the option to vote on a ballot with all qualifying candidates on it (regardless of party) if they do not want to participate in a party's primary election or are barred from doing so by the party. The resolution is currently before the Assembly Elections Committee.