The Hidden Cost of the “Top 2”

Changing the way we elect candidates

Florida Primary

When the voters passed Proposition 11, The Top Two Primaries Act in 2010, the idea was to open up the system to encourage more competition and, hopefully, more moderation.

The proposition was a response to the legislature-organized districts after the 2000 census which where so gerrymandered that the extremes from the right and left were elected virtually every time. 

Under the terms of the new law, the top two finishers in the primary will face each other in November, even if both come from the same political party and one has more than 50 percent of the vote.

For the top two leaders, the November election becomes a political version of the sports "do over." 

So, how's the system working so far?

According to "Around the Capitol," a nonpartisan campaign oversight organization, the new districts created by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission are mostly one-sided one way or another.

Registered voter data show that 5 of the 80 Assembly districts, 2 of the 40 State Senate districts, and 3 of the Congressional districts are truly competitive.

Okay, that's an improvement, given that only one seat changed party hands during the entire previous decade, but hardly a game-breaker, to continue the sports analogy.

So now the likelihood is that in most districts, two people from the same party are likely to see each other in the fall, with increased costs along the way. 

Consider the 30th Congressional district as an all too typical example. In this hybrid of two previous districts, Democratic incumbents Howard Berman and Brad Sherman have raised nearly $4 million between them--and it's only March. Their campaigns easily eclipse those of the other candidates, leading one to anticipate a rematch in November, when Berman and Sherman will have to engage in massive fund raising yet again.

Another example is the 15th State Senate district in Silicon Valley, where Democratic Assemblyman Jim Beall and former Democratic Assemblyman Joe Coto are the only two candidates running for the seat. Regardless of who comes out on top in June, these "top two" (the only two!) will go at it again in November.

The result: in many cases. a waste of the fatigued voter's time and additional campaign costs for having to fight the same battles twice. Meanwhile, candidates from the other political parties are frozen out of the process in November. 

Clearly, the "Top Two" system has not produced a better election process. Given the composition of most districts, inter-party competition has become intra-party competition. The voters will have fewer choices in November than they have had in the past, when at least they could consider the nominees from all political parties. And all the while, candidates will be spending more time raising more money to do the same thing twice, rather than spending time on the issues troubling California. 
This is one "do over" we can do without.

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