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Stop Confusing California’s Top-Two with Louisiana’s Jungle Primary

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Created: 14 October, 2019
Updated: 15 August, 2022
2 min read

Many eyes are on Louisiana right now where the “jungle” primary over the weekend resulted in a “runoff” election in the gubernatorial race. The top two vote-getters, Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards and Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, will appear on a special runoff election ballot on November 16 because no candidate got 50%+1 of the vote.

For those familiar with California’s top-two nonpartisan primary, written by the Independent Voter Project, the election process may sound similar. However, there’s a very important distinction.

In California, the first round of the election happens in the primary, months before the general election. And, regardless of the results in the primary, the “top-two” are ALWAYS on the ballot in the general election.

Importantly, turnout in the general election is always much higher -- often twice than that of a primary election. Therefore, in California, the candidate must get a majority of the votes in the general election to win, when the most people participate.

READ MORE: The Real History: California's Top-Two Nonpartisan Primary

Back to Louisiana. There, all candidates in major election years appear on the "jungle" primary ballot when all other states hold their general election in November. In odd number years, however, the "jungle" primary for statewide and legislative elections are held in October.

A “runoff” happens when a candidate does NOT get 50%+1 of the vote. The winner is then determined during this “runoff” election where turnout is substantially lower than the general election -- often half. Therefore, when this happens in Louisiana, the candidate that wins does NOT win the election when the most people participate.

Political consultants and the news media often refer to Louisiana and California both as “jungle” primaries because the “jungle” term perpetuates a negative bias from the partisan class against nonpartisan primaries. But they are not the same.

Photo Credit: Alexandru Nika / shutterstock.com

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