New California Law Will Force Candidates to Have Wider Appeal

Photo: Jessica Levinson
Photo: Jessica Levinson

At this point in the election cycle -- post-primary election -- campaigns tend to wind down. That's because in California, where districts leaned heavily to one party, the primary has historically been the battleground for campaigns. Once a spot was secured on the general election ticket, it was usually smooth sailing from there. Now, all that is changing, thanks to two important reforms implemented by Californians at the ballot box.

First, last year for the first time in the state's history, an independent redistricting commission drew state legislative lines. Now a number of districts are not quite as lopsided in terms of partisan makeup as they used to be. Second, California instituted open primaries and top two elections. This means that any voter can vote for any candidate in the primary, and then the top-two voter-getters, regardless of party affiliation, proceed to the general election.

We went through our first round of elections under these new election rules in June and we're now seeing how these new laws will change the face of campaigns.

Because of the top two law, in November there will be 28 races between members of the same party; nineteen of those races are between Democrats.

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Candidates must now attempt to appeal to members of the other major party in the district. It is also important that candidates not forget the fastest growing segment of the electorate, those voters who decline to state a party preference.

It will be interesting to see whether candidates can walk that fine line of maintaining and motivating their base while still reaching across the aisle. This could help show us how partisan and/or divided we really are. Are there issues we all agree on? I hope so, both for our sake and for the sake of the candidates.

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.

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