Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Top two system shuts out third party candidates in CA races

Republicans and Democrats will face candidates from their own party on Tuesday's ballot thanks to California's new top-two primary system.
Republicans and Democrats will face candidates from their own party on Tuesday's ballot thanks to California's new top-two primary system.
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Voters heading to the polls on Tuesday may be surprised to look at their ballots and see races of Democrat versus Democrat and Republican versus Republican. It will be the first general election since California instituted the new top two primary system.

Two years ago, California voters approved Proposition 14, which mandates that the top two vote-getters in a primary – regardless of party affiliation – face off in the general election. The new rules apply to Congressional and state legislative races. Gone are the days when a candidate only had to beat members of his own party in the primary to advance.

“I think at the end of the day this was a continuation of California’s long tradition of fighting political parties,” said Raphe Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA.

“For those who really advocated for this," Sonenshein adds, "the idea was to break the monopoly that party voters have in primaries in selecting candidates and my guess is, they were probably hoping to put in candidates who wouldn’t always follow the party line.”

Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supported Proposition 14 in 2010, believing it would bring more moderate candidates into the mix and end political gridlock in Sacramento.

The ballot this election season includes 21 Assembly and State races with same-party candidates.

On the Congressional side, there are eight intra-party contests. Those include incumbent Republican Rep. Gary Miller running against fellow GOP-er Bob Dutton in San Bernardino, Democratic incumbents Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson in the South Bay, and incumbent Joe Baca and challenger Gloria Negrete McLeod in Ontario.

The top-two system also means third party candidates are effectively shut out at the state level. The ballot does not include any Green Party candidates below the presidential ticket. There are three members of the Peace and Freedom Party running for the state Legislature. Four Congressional races and one Assembly race include candidates without a party preference.

The Green Party’s Michael Feinstein believes the new system will distort how popular a candidate may be.

“They used to say how Saddam Hussein used to win 99 percent in the elections and we all knew what a joke that was," Feinstein said. "Well, what the top two does is produce a false majority."

The Green Party, along with the Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties, sued over Prop 14, arguing that it’s unconstitutional. So far, the lawsuit has not been successful.

 “We’d rather see a political system where every voter has a chance to cast a vote that will lead to electing somebody who really represents their views," Feinstein said, "and if that means having several different parties in government, we think that’s better,”