California: Millions of California voters saw same-party races on November’s ballot and left the space blank | Los Angeles Times

As November’s election results become clear, so does a new California conundrum: Voters may like the top-two primary — which doesn’t guarantee any political party a spot on the fall ballot — but a lot of them skipped last month’s contests in which the only choices were candidates with the same party affiliation. It was not a lack of enthusiasm for the election. The percentage of registered voters who turned out was the highest for a regular gubernatorial election since 1982. Final results, expected later this week, will show about 12.7 million ballots cast statewide. But some races were left blank, in what elections officials call an “under-vote.” The reasons vary — some voters get confused or forget, and others simply don’t like either of the two contenders.

Editorials: California’s open primaries are a cautionary tale about political reform | Dan Balz/The Washington Post

At a time of broken politics and polarization, the impulse to seek out reforms to the political process is understandable. California, which will hold important primary elections on Tuesday, offers a cautionary tale about how good intentions alone are not enough. Eight years ago, California voters approved a ballot initiative establishing a new open primary system. The new system called for primary contests in which all candidates from all parties would be listed on the same ballot. The top two finishers, regardless of party, would advance to the November election. Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) hailed the initiative’s passage as a vehicle that would change the political complexion of the state legislature and the congressional delegation. He and other proponents claimed that it would lead to the nomination and ultimately the election of candidates who were more moderate — center-left and center-right, rather than far left and far right.

Editorials: California’s ‘jungle primary’ isn’t working. We need election reform 2.0 | Andrew Gumbel/Los Angeles Times

As California hurtles toward its state primary June 5, it is obvious there’s a problem. Its open primary system — which sends the top two vote-getters to the general election, regardless of party affiliation — is not working as intended and risks throwing the midterm election into acrimony and confusion. This system is called a “jungle primary” for a reason: It is brutal and unpredictable. In three high-profile House races, there are so many candidates from the two major parties eating into one another’s support that the election results may end up owing more to chance than any discernible will of the people. Polls show that Democrats have an excellent chance of capturing the Southern Californian seats being vacated by Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and Darrell Issa (R-Isla Vista) and have a good shot at unseating Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach). These are all bona fide swing districts that surely deserve an up-and-down contest between a Republican and a Democrat in November.

South Dakota: ‘Top two’ primary backers fail to gather enough support | The Argus-Press

A group trying to bring a “top two” primary system to South Dakota didn’t collect enough valid signatures to get the issue onto the November ballot, the state’s chief elections official said Friday. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs’ office said in a statement that a random sampling of signatures collected by Open Primaries South Dakota found that the campaign submitted about 25,500 valid signatures, not the nearly 28,000 needed for the proposed constitutional amendment to go to voters. The rejection could be challenged in court. The group’s treasurer, De Knudson, said she’s contacted the group’s attorney but that a decision hasn’t been made on whether to challenge the decision.

Florida: Top two election system clears constitution panel | Orlando Sentinel

An effort to let voters decide if they want open primary elections advanced Friday, but moving to such a “top-two” system drew questions from members of the state Constitution Revision Commission. Commission member Bill Schifino, a Tampa attorney, initially proposed allowing unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in Republican or Democratic primaries. But Schifino altered the proposal to put all candidates seeking the same office — if there are more than two candidates — into a single primary regardless of party affiliation. The top two vote-getters would run in the general election. That system, already in use by California, Nebraska and Washington, would also allow state parties to list on the ballot the candidate they “endorse.”

California: In California, open primaries took the ‘politics’ out of politics | The Hill

Last month, the California legislature did something unheard of — by Washington, D.C., standards. They came together across party lines to amend and extend sweeping cap and trade emissions legislation. Business, agriculture, labor and environmentalists all had a seat at the table. By 2030, California’s population is expected to grow by five million people, yet our greenhouse gas emissions will shrink to 40 percent below 1990 levels. In this era of cynicism and gridlock, how is this possible? The answer may surprise you. It’s not because California is a “blue” state. If that were the reason, New York would be leading the country in legislative innovation, not state house scandals and indictments. Seven years ago, Californians overhauled the political system so that voters have more choices and politicians are incentivized to cooperate and innovate, not grandstand and polemicize.

California: The political parties would like voters to kill top-two primary system in 2018 | Los Angeles Times

Political parties and open primaries are the electoral equivalent of oil and water. They may coexist, but they don’t mix. So it’s hardly surprising that neither California’s dominant Democrats nor its fading Republicans have ever really embraced Proposition 14, the sweeping ballot measure that abolished partisan primaries six years ago. Some, in fact, say they’ve seen enough. It’s time to scrap it. “If we don’t get California straightened out for every party, at least give them some kind of chance, then why the hell are we involved in politics at all?” asks Tom Palzer, a Republican from Rancho Cucamonga.

California: Revamped primaries changed California politics, but not like everyone thought | Los Angeles Times

The plea made to California voters to dilute the power of political parties was so insistent that it was written completely in capital letters in the June 2010 statewide voter guide. “PARTISANSHIP IS RUNNING OUR STATE INTO THE GROUND,” screamed the ballot argument in favor of Proposition 14, a broad change voters ultimately approved in the rules governing candidate primary elections. Its premise was simple: Scrap party-based primaries in statewide, congressional and legislative elections. Put all candidates on a single ballot with the two top vote-getters moving to November. If they were from the same party, so be it. Proposition 14’s supporters believed the change would empower centrists, candidates and voters alike. The ballot guide promised these newly elected politicians would be “more practical individuals who can work together for the common good.” California has now conducted 469 regularly scheduled races under the top-two primary — elections for governor, Congress and every seat in the Legislature. The bottom line: changes, yes, but likely only on the margins.

California: Why Is the Most Groundbreaking Senate Race Ever So Uninspiring? | Politico

The race to succeed retiring Senator Barbara Boxer is unlike anything American politics has seen. It’s California’s first fight for an open Senate seat in 24 years, and it is being waged between two Democratic women of color, state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez. The election of either would be a historic first: Harris would be the first biracial woman and first Indian-American woman in the U.S. Senate; Sanchez would be the first Latina. But there’s another way in which it’s groundbreaking: It’s a high-profile, open-seat Senate election without a Republican on the ballot. The Harris-Sanchez showdown could offer a glimpse into the future of national politics, not just because of who’s running but because of the radical way the whole race was structured. It’s the largest experiment ever for a new kind of election—California’s so-called jungle primary, in which the top two vote-getters go against each other in the general election, regardless of party—and it is exposing that model’s unexpected shortcomings.

Editorials: Top-two reform tilts California toward one-party rule | Larry N. Gerston/Los Angeles Times

Since California’s Proposition 14 passed in 2010, all partisan candidates — except those running for president — appear on the same primary ballot, regardless of party. Then the two leading contenders face off in the general election. Like so many other electoral reforms in the state, this top-two primary system isn’t shaking out quite as intended. Reformers promised more moderate candidates and more competitive races. Instead we’ve got something that looks like one-party rule. The race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer is exhibit A. State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez were the survivors of a free-for-all nominating contest with 34 candidates, including Democrats, Republicans and a litany of minor party and independent candidates. But in deep blue California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by better than a 3 to 2 margin, it should be no surprise that Democrats Harris and Sanchez prevailed.

California: Unusual election outcomes are the new normal with California’s top-two primary rules | Los Angeles Times

For voters who spent decades – even lifetimes – trying to understand the rules for elections in California, the last four years of a new system have been a jarring jumble of candidates and choices. The seismic shock responsible: an overhaul of the rules for congressional and legislative primaries. That change, promised as a way to reform state politics, tore down election rules that had been built by political parties to give a leg up to their preferred candidates. What’s left is a system that’s far from settled, for either voters or candidates. “It has no doubt upped the uncertainty factor,” said Dave Gilliard, a Republican political consultant who managed several legislative races across California on Tuesday’s ballot. As many as two dozen races for the Legislature or Congress will pit same-party candidates against each other on Nov. 8, according to early returns from Tuesday. In most of those contests, it was outside money and the number of candidates on the primary ballot – not political strategy – that shaped the outcome.

California: Two Democrats will face off for California’s U.S. Senate seat, marking first time a Republican will not be in contention | Los Angeles Times

California voters made history on Tuesday in the race for the U.S. Senate, sending two Democrats to a November runoff and denying a Republican a spot on the fall ballot for the first time since the state’s first direct election of senators in 1914. State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris won the largest share of the vote and the title of winner in the primary. By the end of the night, Harris led Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez by more than 800,000 votes, a margin of 23 percentage points. Under California’s relatively new top-two primary rules, the two Democratic women will square off on Nov. 8 – a contest that pits Harris’ strength as the party favorite against Sanchez’s potential appeal to Republicans, unaffiliated voters and Latinos. “Our unity is our strength. Our diversity is our power,” Harris told a boisterous crowd at the Delancey Street Foundation clubhouse in San Francisco on election night. “We understand that we have so many challenges as a country and we are prepared to lead.”

Editorials: California’s Election Calamity | Jonathan Bernstein/Bloomberg View

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.

California: Are you an independent voter? You aren’t if you checked this box | Los Angeles Times

With nearly half a million registered members, the American Independent Party is bigger than all of California’s other minor parties combined. The ultraconservative party’s platform opposes abortion rights and same sex marriage, and calls for building a fence along the entire United States border. Based in the Solano County home of one of its leaders, the AIP bills itself as “The Fastest Growing Political Party in California.” But a Times investigation has found that a majority of its members have registered with the party in error. Nearly three in four people did not realize they had joined the party, a survey of registered AIP voters conducted for The Times found. That mistake could prevent people from casting votes in the June 7 presidential primary, California’s most competitive in decades. Voters from all walks of life were confused by the use of the word “independent” in the party’s name, according to The Times analysis. Residents of rural and urban communities, students and business owners and top Hollywood celebrities with known Democratic leanings — including Sugar Ray Leonard, Demi Moore and Emma Stone — were among those who believed they were declaring that they preferred no party affiliation when they checked the box for the American Independent Party.

California: The Consequences of California’s Top-Two Primary | The Atlantic

In 2009, Abel Maldonado, then a state senator, brought the top-two open primary to California. The change allowed the two leading finishers in a primary to proceed to the general election regardless of party affiliation. It set into motion a system that would reshape the state’s politics. Today, Maldonado is as much vilified as lauded in the state, but he is supremely satisfied with what he did. “You know what, you get a little lazy sometimes, and with a closed primary system, where you keep independents from voting, let me tell you something, you can be lazy,” he told me. “With this open primary, you have to work for the taxpayers.” In an open primary, people vote for any candidate regardless of party affiliation. But in California, a top-two primary system paved the way for two candidates of the same party to confront one another in the general election. As a result, political parties are no longer guaranteed a spot in the general, nor can they dispense with moderates within their own party in a primary election. Louisiana and Washington are the only two other states that have adopted such a system.

California: Elections summit takes stock of California’s nonpartisan top-two primary reform | California Forward

It’s been five years since voters approved “The Top Two Primary.” California has been taking stock of the open primary election reform, to see if it will be another case of “As California goes, so goes the nation” or a political flop. “I would never have entered this race and would never have won this race if there had not been the top-two primary,” Democratic State Senator Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa), told the audience at the Nonpartisan Primary Summit. “One of the things the top-two did for me is it gave me some room for me to define what it meant to me to be a Democrat.” Glazer’s win over a more liberal Democrat was the most recent example of the influence this reform is having on California elections. But, is it resulting in reducing partisan bickering and gridlock while making elections more competitive and creating a more moderate and productive Legislature?

Montana: 12 ballot measures introduced by Montana legislators before deadline | The Missoulian

One last-minute ballot measure affecting utility rates was introduced Wednesday, while backers decided not to pursue another referendum for “top-two” primary elections that was drafted and ready to go. Wednesday was the deadline for legislators to introduce statutory referendums or constitutional initiatives. A dozen bills have been introduced to ask voters in 2016 to approve laws or constitutional amendments, and they remain alive at the Legislature. Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman, introduced House Bill 638. It’s a statutory referendum to deny a electric utility automatic rate changes to cover costs of a plant outage. Senate Republicans decided not to proceed with a referendum drafted for Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, which would have created the “top-two” primary election for certain offices.

California: Top-two primary system hasn’t worked as proponents promised | Los Angeles Times

Reinvention is part of California’s credo, the inalienable right of every man, woman and child to make of themselves and their lives what they will — and do it over again, if they’re not happy the first time. Second chances, surgical alterations, artificial enhancement — the only limits are wealth and the imagination. That extends not just to the body beautiful but the body politic. After years of partisan squabbling, massive budget deficits and general haplessness in Sacramento, voters grew fed up and decided it was time for a government makeover. One result was Proposition 14, passed in June 2010 and intended to help bring a new breed of more accommodating, less ideological lawmaker to the state capital. (The proposition also covered congressional and U.S. Senate contests, for good measure.) It was supposed to work like this: Candidates would run in a free-for-all primary with the two top vote-getters advancing to a November runoff, regardless of party affiliation. Absent the need to appease the most puritanical elements of the major parties, the thinking went, candidates would broaden their appeal to the many voters in the middle. Voila! A more harmonious, pragmatic and productive Legislature. (Fixing Washington’s scabrous culture would, presumably, take longer.) Has it worked? In short, no, not yet.

California: Same-party races force hard choices | Sacremento Bee

John McAtee, a 52-year-old voter from Elk Grove, isn’t happy about the state of his ballot this year. In two legislative contests, the Republican will not have a candidate of his own party to choose from. For state Assembly, he can pick between Democrats Jim Cooper and Darrell Fong. For state Senate, his choices are Democrats Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan. He considers the scenario one drawback of living in a heavily Democratic area. “I am not moving, but you take your lumps,” McAtee said. A reverse scenario is playing out in a Roseville-centered congressional district, where veteran conservative Rep. Tom McClintock is challenged by fellow Republican Art Moore. More than 116,000 Democrats there have no opportunity to select one of their own. Democrat Michael Adams said he’s met Moore at district events and also has attended McClintock’s town-hall meetings. Adams, a 68-year-old resident of Roseville, said the upcoming congressional contest boils down to this: “Voting for the lesser of two evils is what I have to do.” In California, 25 same-party contests populate the fall ballot, intraparty battles made possible by voter-approved Proposition 14 in June 2010. Under the measure, the top two candidates regardless of party advance to the general election.

Oregon: Voters get 2nd shot at ‘top-two’ primaries | Associated Press

For the half-million Oregon voters who reject party labels, the May election ballot can be pretty boring. Shut out of the Republican and Democratic primaries, this growing bloc of voters is left with a handful of nonpartisan local races and a perplexing question: Is it necessary to vote for all these judges running unopposed? This November, Oregon voters decide whether to enliven their primary ballots. Under Measure 90, the state would abandon partisan primaries and adopt a top-two election system similar to what is used in neighboring Washington and California.

Editorials: ‘Jungle primary’ brings unintended consequences | Harold Meyerson/Capital Times

Would the dysfunction of U.S. politics be dispelled if we got rid of partisan primaries? That’s the contention of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Schumer argued that the primary system in most states, in which voters choose nominees for their respective parties who then run head to head in November, gives too much weight to the party faithful, who are inclined to select candidates who veer either far right or far left. The cure Schumer proposes for this ill is the “jungle primary,” in which all primary candidates, regardless of party, appear on the same ballot, with the top two finishers, again regardless of party, advancing to the general election. The senator cites the example of California — once the most gridlocked of states, now a place where legislation actually gets enacted — as proof that such primaries work. But Schumer misunderstands what got California working again. In so doing, he also misses the fatal flaws of the jungle primary.

Oregon: Top-two primary initiative qualifies for November ballot |Statesman Journal

Oregonians could dramatically alter the way they choose candidates if a ballot initiative to open the state’s primary elections passes in November. The open or top-two primary initiative qualified Tuesday for the November ballot with 91,716 valid signatures, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. The measure would create a new, nonpartisan primary election process where candidates from all parties appear on a single ballot. The two candidates who received the most votes in that election would advance to a general election. “We are very happy; excited,” chief petitioner James Kelly said. “We’ve been waiting a long time.” Washington and California both have open primaries, but Oregon voters overwhelmingly rejected a similar measure in 2008.

Oregon: Backers of ‘top two’ nonpartisan primary say they have enough signatures to make ballot | The Oregonian

James Kelly, the chief petitioner of an initiative that would radically rewrite Oregon’s primary system, said Thursday that he believes his group has gathered enough signatures to get on the November ballot. Kelly, a Portland businessman who now lives on an eastern Oregon ranch, said his group will finish petitioning Friday and most likely turn in signatures early next week.  He said they’ve collected about 145,000 signatures, which gives them a large margin to ensure they have the 87,213 valid signatures from registered voters needed to qualify. Kelly’s initiative would replace Oregon’s partisan primary races with the type of system now used in California and Washington. Under this system, all of the candidates would be listed on the same primary ballot, and the top two finishers regardless of party would advance to the general election.

California: The Jungle Primary | Time Magazine

All bets are off in California’s congressional races as multiple candidates from the same party face off. Well, part of it is that Dan Schnur is an interesting guy, a longtime consultant to moderate Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain. But he isn’t a Republican anymore. He’s running as an Independent. “I’m in favor of marriage equality and lower taxes,” he begins. “I’m tough on crime and pro-choice. I’m for immigration reform and for using test scores as a valuable measure of students’ progress. Yes, the reason that I’m running as an Independent is that neither party will have me.” But that’s not exactly accurate. He’s running as an Independent because there were two political reforms enacted during Schwarzenegger’s time as governor of California. They were below the radar but startling, the sort of reforms that are near impossible because incumbent politicians usually block them–but they were passed by public referendum and initiative in 2010, and Schnur was one of those at the heart of the campaign to get them enacted.

Montana: Court blocks ‘top-two’ primary referendum from appearing on 2014 ballot | Billings Gazette

The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the state from placing on the November ballot a legislative referendum to change how the state’s primary elections work. The Republican majorities in the House and Senate in 2013 put Legislative Referendum 127 on the ballot. Some unions and another group went directly to the Supreme Court to ask that it be stripped from the ballot on legal grounds. In a 6-1 decision, the court majority ruled that the title of the referendum “does not comply with the plain meaning of the Legislature’s 100-word limit” in state law.

California: Padilla, Yee looking at 3rd party ballot access issues | CalNewsroom

Two Democrat state Senators, who are running for Secretary of State on the promise of free and fair elections, are looking into the new ballot qualification rules that are keeping third parties off the June ballot. Under new election rules established with the state’s Top Two primary, it would take the Green Party of California more than 16 years to raise enough money to pay the filing fee for all of its candidates in the June primary.

California: Top-two system blocks third parties from primary ballot | CalNewsroom

California’s top-two election system –by its very design– excludes third parties from the general election ballot. But, as the law makes its debut in statewide races, minor parties say it’s undermining their ability to even field candidates for the June primary ballot. “I had planned to run for Secretary of State, but I did not because I could not afford the filing fee,” said C. T. Weber, a member of the Peace and Freedom Party of California’s State Executive Committee. “As a result of Top Two and its implementing legislation, I could no longer get the signatures in lieu of filing fees.” This year, the Peace and Freedom Party only has the resources to get a few candidates on the ballot. They aren’t alone in their struggle. All of California’s “third parties” are battling new ballot qualification procedures established with the Top Two primary, and they say that it’s a fight for their very survival.

California: Top-two primary system is shaking up California elections | Los Angeles Times

When Rep. Gary Miller this week became the latest California congressman to throw in the towel, the Rancho Cucamonga Republican in effect delivered his district into Democrats’ hands. While Miller’s is the only one of the five open House seats in California that analysts say is likely to flip from one major party to the other in this year’s elections, the state’s relatively new “top two” primary system is helping to reshape all of them. Contests in districts dominated by one major party, once essentially settled in primaries, could now continue into the fall. With the candidate fields still taking shape, those might include the races to succeed Republicans Howard P. “Buck” McKeon in northeast Los Angeles County and John Campbell in Orange County, for example.

California: Turnout in Special Elections Has Declined by 1/3 Since Top-Two Rules Came into Force | Ballot Access News

Many large newspapers in California are bemoaning the very low turnout in special U.S. House and legislative elections recently. Some newspapers are editorializing in favor of eliminating special elections for the legislature, and advocating that the Constitution be changed to let the Governor appoint legislators to fill vacant seats. See this Los Angeles Times editorial, and this Santa Rosa Press Democrat editorial. The newspapers are correct that voter turnout in recent special elections has been low. Ever since the top-two rules were in force, starting in 2011, the median voter turnout in California special legislative and U.S. House elections has been 13.84%. The average has been 15.80%. There have been 19 special elections under top-two rules.

California: Panel Rejects Challenges to ‘Top Two’ Election Laws | Metropolitan News-Enterprise

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday rejected challenges to Proposition 14, which established the “Top Two” election system used after the 2010 elections, and the measure’s implementing legislation. Senior U.S. District Judge James G. Carr of the Northern District of Ohio, sitting by designation, said there is no constitutional impediment to requiring candidates to list themselves as preferring a qualified political party, or as having “No Party Preference,” or to be listed without any statement about party preference at all. The Elections Code has since been amended to eliminate the blank-space option, so that all candidates are listed either by party or as “No Party Preference.” Proposition 14 replaced the state’s closed partisan primary election with an open primary in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, qualify for the general election.