California’s nonpartisan, top-two elections allow Democrats and Republicans alike to differentiate themselves within their party. In 2010, California voters passed Proposition 14, putting the top-two system into place for all California primaries (except the presidential primary).
Top-two went into effect in 2012, allowing voters of any party affiliation to vote for any candidate in the primary races (except the presidential). The top two vote-getters move on to the general election.
Advocates of top-two say it was proposed as a way to include more voters in the primary, create competitive elections, and could potentially decrease partisanship in California politics. Thus far, there have been two midterm elections and one presidential.
Voter turnout has not drastically increased in the three primaries since implementation, but it created the Democrat versus Democrat phenomenon in California’s general elections. In same-party races, candidates shift their focus from party ideology to differentiate their policy positions in order to win over voters in the political minority.
Competition between two Democrats appears to have pushed political battles into Californians’ lives. Some reports suggest that voters are more engaged than ever, canvassing for candidates, participating in phone banks, and taking a more critical eye with what is at stake.
Voters are more engaged than ever, canvassing for candidates, participating in phone banks, and taking a more critical eye with what’s at stake.
Assembly District 47, located in the Inland Empire, is a prime example of how top-two is changing the way candidates and voters look at elections.
No longer only a contest between Republican and Democrat, the AD 47 race is likely to result in liberal Democrat Eloise Reyes and Democratic incumbent Asm. Cheryl R. Brown moving on to the general election. A third listed competitor, Republican Aissa Sanchez, doesn’t appear to have a strong campaign presence in a district that leans heavily Democratic.
Eloise Reyes touts her commitment to the Inland Empire instead of Sacramento interests. Cheryl Brown is known for bucking her own party on business-related policies.
Brown claims to vote for the interests of her district. She voted against a provision in SB 350 which aimed to cut California’s motor vehicle petroleum use in half by 2030, based on the fact that it would hurt the district’s economy. In contrast, Eloise Reyes supports more typical labor and environmentalist issues.
AD 47 is nearly half Democrats, a fourth Republican, and another fourth independent. The district includes part of the city of San Bernardino, in addition to Colton, Fontana, Rialto and Grand Terrace. PPIC polls found Inland Empire voters are not highly interested in environmental issues and climate change.
Furthermore, the district’s unemployment rate was the highest in the U.S. of metropolitan areas in 2015, though the rate has dropped to 5.8%, compared to California’s overall 5.6% rate. It appears that lower commercial real estate rents, more skilled labor options, and business creation have decreased unemployment in the Inland Empire.
Job sectors that offer a way out of poverty for unemployed or poverty-stricken people include mining, oil and gas, construction, manufacturing and logistics.
As the election unfolds, we’ll be watching to see if the nonpartisan, top-two election system helps voters push candidates toward their district’s needs, or if it allows candidates to tailor to a district.