Welcome to the New California -- Politically Speaking

Primary results for Assembly districts: Blue and red districts, where two members of the same party faced off in the general election, are a result of the new open primary, top two law.

Hello, readers. Welcome to the "new California." Californians have now lived through a full election cycle with two big election reforms.

First, Californians recently approved redistricting by an independent redistricting commission. That, for the first time in the state's history, gave an independent (or bipartisan, or better yet: multi-partisan) group of citizens the power to draw our state's district lines -- now gone are the days of legislators drawing district lines to ensure their safe re-election.

Second, in 2010 Californians approved open primary, top-two elections. That means any voter now can vote for any candidate in the primary election, regardless of party affiliation. In the general election (which is really more like a run-off election) the top-two vote-getters competed (one good example: two congressional Republican candidates faced off in a traditionally blue district of San Bernardino County. Learn more here).

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Shortly after the election the Public Policy Institute of California crunched the numbers and published a report which sheds some light on the effect of those electoral reforms.

One prediction came true: On the average, elections were more competitive. Those making this prediction (myself included) hardly went out on a limb. In 2001, California legislators drew district lines, in large part, to ensure their safe re-election. Once an independent redistricting commission took over and ignored incumbency protection concerns and instead drew lines to do things like maintain communities of interest, it a virtual sure thing that at least some races would become more competitive.

Similarly, under our old system, because of registration numbers, the winner of a primary election was all but assured success in the general election. Put another way, there were a good number of districts, which were either so heavily Democratic or Republican, that the majority party's primary winner did not need to wage much of a battle in the general election. The top-two election changed that, and we saw competitive races between members of the same party in a number of districts.

We may want to promote more competition in our elections for a number of reasons, but with increased competition comes increased cost. Anyone who lives in a competitive district no doubt heard their share of radio advertisements and received a plethora of campaign mailers. Those campaign advertisements, and others, cost money. Candidates in California will be increasingly dependent on large donors and spenders for the foreseeable future.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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It is not good writing to refer to Prop. 14 as an "open primary". Wisconsin invented open primaries in 1907. An "open primary" is a system in which each party has its own primary ballot and its own nominees, but on primary day any voter is free to choose any party's primary ballot. It is better writing to refer to California's system simply as a top-two system. 20 states have open primaries, but only California, Washington and Louisiana have top-two primaries.