Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Did Props 14 and 20 Fail?

After last week's results there's been a lot of talk about the California electoral reforms.

California Redistricting Commission
Some people thought that the California Redistricting Commission would bring competitive races to California. While there could be 12 competitive congressional races, there might only be two state senate and five assembly races that are in doubt. This isn't much of an increase. The new lines, however, weren't designed to produce more competitive districts. The law doesn't use that as commission criteria and the commission never stated as a goal. If they were looking to create more competition, they would've had to gerrymander some districts into unusual shapes. They were asked to create districts that were more compact and reflected communities of interest. In some cases this'd lead to more competitive districts, but there was no guarantee.

Top Two
The prop. 14 designers felt that Top Two would produce more moderate legislators and allow independents to get through. There's no indication that there was any change in who got nominated. While a handful of independents did finish second, none will seriously have a shot in November. The designers forgot that Democrats and Republicans would still be voting heavily in the primary and they'd go for the more liberal and conservative candidates respectively.

While each party has moderates the only way a moderate would get through is if the moderates in both parties coalesced around one candidate. This was unlikely, as moderate Republicans are unlikely to vote for any Democrat over a Republican and vice-versa. In fact, Republican Tony Strickland's high voter percentage in he CA-26 congressional race indicates that Linda Parks' lost almost all of her Republican support when she left the party. She was able to pick up some Democrats and independents but she couldn't advance without Republican moderates.

Independents don't turn out in heavy numbers for primaries and didn't do so in this one either. They also aren't all moderates, as some share the same space as the more extreme elements on both sides.

All that said, Top Two could produce more moderate legislators, just not in the primary. Races involving two candidates from the same party will leave people from the opposing party with no one to vote for. They will, at least in theory, vote for the more moderate candidate, with views closer to theirs. Thus a candidate like Eric Swalwell in CA-15 needs only to prove he's a legit challenger to win most Republican votes. If he can get a quarter of the votes in his own party, which seems likely, he'll advance. If this is correct, no amount of money will save Pete Stark because he doesn't appeal to Republicans. Top Two will go to the more moderate candidate.

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