“California’s Election Calamity”

Jonathan Bernstein:

California voters are set to vote in their primary on Tuesday, and will suffer the consequences of a serious self-imposed mistake in how they run their state. No, it has nothing to do with the presidential race. The disaster is its “top two” system, in which the candidates for state offices — regardless of party — go on to compete in the general election in November if they finish first and second in the primaries.

The likely perverse result? Voters in November will probably have a choice between two Democrats for an open U.S. Senate seat.

The motivation for the California system was to elevate more moderate politicians than the parties were producing on their own. In practice, at least in the first two election cycles since the change was carried out, the results have not matched reformers’ hopes. Candidates have not been more moderate.

In part, that’s because the parties have adapted: They made more formal endorsements before the June first-round election. This is consistent with a theme that political scientist Seth Masket has emphasized in his research: Political parties are resilient, and react to regulation by finding new ways to control their nomination.


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