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April 13, 2015

Comments

As a partisan, I'm none too thrilled about top two primaries (we now have a blanket primary system in Washington State). I understand the positive features.

On the other hand, this effectively shuts out the voice of the opposition where the voting population leans heavily in one partisan direction, and tends to dilute the power of organized political parties, which may or may not be a good thing.

It does nothing for "independents".

Partisan candidates in closely contested districts do have to consider means of obtaining a majority, i.e., the "whole population" (a not at all useful phrase when analyzing any election).

It also tends to promote bland personal popularity contests (cf. "non-partisan" municipal elections)that I find a great disservice to the voting public.

If you are an active member of a political party in a district where you are a distinct minority, this system basically tells you to just STFU...you got nothing.

Perhaps my perspective is skewed. But here we have the D-R-I split of roughly 40-25-35. That is, lots of people who are not registered in either party. What party primaries do is tell that 1/3 of the population to STFU.

So the partisan vs. top-two thing can cut both ways.

It also, not incidentally, makes it almost certain that third parties will never make it to the general election ballot.

I say, closed primeries, and then lower the petition threshold for independents to get on the ballot. Top two is just another mechanism for making the general election meaningless, a "heads I win, tails you lose" proposition.

I think that's why California went for it, frankly: To shut Republicans out entirely.

In a traditional system, those "lots of people" always have a choice to become engaged in one of the two major political parties and help get nominees (the mythical moderates) who they support on the ballot.

Insofar as they do not, they shut themselves up.

We have a political system that locks us in to a two party system. This is baked into the cake with winner take all representation.

Locking it down further into a contest between two candidates sharing a basic ideological outlook is not doing the polity any favors.

I think that's why California went for it, frankly: To shut Republicans out entirely.

On the other hand, there is always sophisticated analysis (Benghazi! IRS!)like this from the twilight zone of the political spectrum.

Of course, why deeply lopsided states leaning the other way politically have not adopted this measure goes unexplained.

I guess they figure their current one party iron rule is just fine as it is.

wj,

imagine a situation where two "independents" are the top 2. Now 2/3 of the population is in STFU land!

OMG!

;)

I think that's why California went for it, frankly: To shut Republicans out entirely.

Actually, it looks like it may be helping the Republican Party here in California. We are seeing Republicans get on the general election ballot. It's just that they are not the ideologues that party-only primaries were throwing up. (It's also tending, when we get two Democrats on the general election ballot, tending to cause their ideologues to lose.)

But Bobby, independent voters are not a block; they don't have positions for an "independent" candidate to slavishly follow or else. As a result, the independents tend to listen to all of their constituents.

I almost agree with Brett here. I'd rather make it easier for other-than-Republicrats (minor parties and non-partisan candidates) to get on the final ballot.

An Australian ballot seems like a simpler and more intuitive approach: mark your favorite #1, your second-favorite #2, &c.

Still, as dubious as I am about a "top-two" arrangement like California's (we voted against it in Oregon last year), it has to be an improvement over what we have now.

That is, lots of people who are not registered in either party. What party primaries do is tell that 1/3 of the population to STFU.

FWIW, here in MA if you are registered as unenrolled (what we call independents, "Independent" is actually one of the third parties), you can vote in primary for any one party during any election cycle.

So, you can vote in either (R) or (D) primary, but not both.

You could also vote for candidates from any of the rest of our smorgasbord of recognized parties, including the Prohibition party, the Pirate party, and the Pizza party.

I keep telling people, "You can 1) Vote for the Democratic candidate and thus give your vote to the Democratic party, or else you can 2) do anything from voting Republican to cutting paper dolls out of your ballot and thus give your vote to the Republican party."

More thoughts about how to design a ballot can be found here (ignore the Hugo Award stuff and just read what it says about how to count votes): http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/016206.html#016206

wj,

Care to speculate on why "top two" is better than, say, "top three"?

--TP

So, you can vote in either (R) or (D) primary, but not both.

NC does it that way too. seems like a reasonable way to do things.

In New Jersey, if your registration is unaffiliated, you can vote in either primary, but not both. Once you do, you are registered as a Democrat or Republican, depending on which primary you voted in. Thereafter, you can only vote in the primary of that party, unless you change your party no less than 55 days prior to any given primary election.

I think it's stupid. I wish we did it like MA.

The only thought I have right now about the top-two system is that, if you're in a district where one party is so dominant that they'll get both spots on the general-election ballot, wouldn't they win in a typical general election, anyway, at least the vast majority of the time? Isn't the minority party in such as case getting a big STFU either way?

"wouldn't they win in a typical general election, anyway, at least the vast majority of the time?"

I suppose you could have the occasional case where the majority party fields somebody who manages to disqualify themselves somehow, or croaks, or something.

Then they'll probably pull a Torecelli anyway, and be permitted to replace them even if the deadline has passed.

But there's something to be said for having a choice on the ballot, even if which way the election is going to go is an almost sure thing.

But there's something to be said for having a choice on the ballot, even if which way the election is going to go is an almost sure thing.

Yeah, but you can vote in the primary that puts the people on the ballot, and you can still vote in the general if you have a preference between the candidates. It's not like you're anymore shut out than you ever were if you look at the entire process, AFAICT.

Unless you're so married to a particular party that you'd never even consider voting for another party's candidate, I don't see who this particular aspect of it is such a bad thing, especially if it prevents the two parties from throwing up a couple of wack-a-doodles, which doesn't leave you will a hell of a great choice when it happends.

Care to speculate on why "top two" is better than, say, "top three"?

Tony, I don't know that it is.

My personal definition of "better" means a system which
a) put a premium on supporting the sort of policies which a majority of the total population, rather than just a majority of one party, supports,
b) allows those who are more centerist than most of their party, albeit well away from the center of the population, a chance to influence what their party stands for,
and
c) gives a chance to those who are interested in government, but not willing to kowtow to either of the major parties.

Would "top three" do that? I simply don't know. I wonder if there is any way to model an election and make a prediction . . . .

But there's something to be said for having a choice on the ballot, even if which way the election is going to go is an almost sure thing.

Even with "top two," there is always a choice. The two candidates may be from the same party, but that is a huge distance from their being identical.

In fact, based on the elections I have seen so far, they can have seriously different views on a lot of issues. We are currently having a special election for State Senate (to replace someone who got elected to Congress). One of the two candidates in the run-off (essentially a general election scenario) is what Brett would call a typical Democrat -- pro-union, pro-big-government, etc. The other (also a Democrat) is running on smaller government, cutting back government pensions plans, banning strikes by government workers, etc. What, a couple of decades ago, would be considered a typical Republican platform.

Except that, for the past 15-20 years (before top two) we have rarely seen a Republican in California who was not totally whacko -- to the point where the only election of interest for state-wide office was the Democratic primary. We simply never saw someone win a Republican primary who had a chance of being elected. (Since top two went in, we have started getting some sensible Republicans running. And, when we do, they get on the general election ballot quite handily.)

The thing I most object to about the top two primary, is that there aren't two parties, and that candidates don't normally have to be members of a party to be in the general election.

I think it prematurely winnows the choices.

So, independence of the two major parties is a bad thing?

Is that what you think in general? Or just that you can't imagine enough independents winning to significantly influence what the legislature serves up? (And if the latter, why would you support third party candidates, as long as they belong to a formal party?)

So, top three primaries? Top four?

I don't see why not, other than the usual vested interests. The only "real" advantage I see for "top two" is that the winner definitely has a majority (not just a plurality), but that's a minor point.

I think it prematurely winnows the choices.

The top two aren't party restricted, and, in practical terms, of what importance is the "prematurely" part? Is some truly viable candidate likely not to be on the ballot? If so, would you be okay with some other top-N system and for what value of N?

Perhaps the question to ask, when considering "top three" is: what is the probability that the third place finisher will go on to win in the general election? How many primary candidates would there have to be from one part of the political spectrum for that to happen?

One of the things "top two" did, was abolish write in votes. It has, literally, abolished for the first time in California a voter's right to vote for whoever they please, regardless of whether they're on the official ballot.

Maybe write-ins seldom won, but now you can't even do a write-in vote as a protest.

One of the things "top two" did, was abolish write in votes

You can't vote for a write-in in CA primaries?

Not to harp on how wonderful things are here in the people's republic, but the Sec of State (of MA) hosts a web page explaining how to run as a write-in candidate.

You can even use stickers, to make it easier for people to do.

Just to be clear, you can run in California as a write-in candidate. What you cannot do is write in the name of someone who is not running. Which doesn't seem unreasonable.

And the candidate has to be certified. Which means submitting a written statement giving:
(1) Candidate's name.
(2) Residence address.
(3) A declaration stating that he or she is a write-in candidate.
(4) The title of the office for which he or she is running.
And, if there are statutory requirements (e.g to be 35 to be President), the write-inn candidate has to meet them.

It's not really an onerous hurdle.

Just to be more clear, you can run in California, in the primary, as a write-in. Not in the general election anymore, or so I understand.

But Bobby, independent voters are not a block; they don't have positions for an "independent" candidate to slavishly follow or else. As a result, the independents tend to listen to all of their constituents.

This is essentially BS. Those holding office listen to "interests". "Interests" generally speaking have very strong opinions.

Except that, for the past 15-20 years (before top two) we have rarely seen a Republican in California who was not totally whacko -- to the point where the only election of interest for state-wide office was the Democratic primary.

What you are essentially saying here is that because the GOP has gone off into la la land that we need to punish the Democratic Party. This is risible. You also imply that as a consequence, most statewide Democratic office holders and/or nominees are "far left". This, too, is a laughable claim.

Counterfactual: The idiots (the great hordes of voters that I dearly lover otherwise) in California elected Ronnie and Arnold to the chief executive slot. The idiots in California passed the Jarvis tax "reform" (cough, cough).

You can't be serious.

My personal definition of "better" means a system which
a) put a premium on supporting the sort of policies which a majority of the total population, rather than just a majority of one party, supports,

Non sequitur. Does not follow.

b) allows those who are more centerist than most of their party, albeit well away from the center of the population, a chance to influence what their party stands for,
and

Again. How does this work? Are you going to look me in the eye and tell me Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are not, in very important policy respects "centerists"?

It strikes me that you desire more than anything to tilt the playing field to get the political outcomes that you desire. Calling your preferences "centrist" is just so much frosting on the cake.

c) gives a chance to those who are interested in government, but not willing to kowtow to either of the major parties.

Please. If you are interested in government there are many ways to get involved and have influence. And just about anybody can walk into a local LD Dem and/or GOP LD and join, no questions asked.

Not a whole lot of effort involved, if you ask me.

wj,

Another concern I have: Mitigating organized political party influence will just mean that said influence may well just wind up with unaccountable private interests.

I am not convinced such an outcome would be "better".

This is essentially BS. Those holding office listen to "interests". "Interests" generally speaking have very strong opinions.

But, Bobby, if that's true, why does it matter whether they belong to a party or are independents? Given that they only listen to interests, they would be saying STFU to all of the voters anyway, wouldn't they?

Voting system

The idiots (the great hordes of voters that I dearly lover otherwise) in California elected Ronnie and Arnold to the chief executive slot.

True.
And everybody (including Arnold) was entirely aware that the only reason he was elected the first time is that it was an open election (i.e. without party primaries) to fill an vacant position (the result of a recall). No way in hell he would have won a Republican primary, and everybody here knows it.

Are you going to look me in the eye and tell me Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are not, in very important policy respects "centerists"?

I have no problem saying that Barbara Boxer is not a centerist. Not even close -- even for California. What she is is one of the luckiest politicians going. Every time she comes up, the Republicans nominate someone who is either ever farther out than she is, or who is manifestly incompetent (e.g. Fiorina).

why does it matter whether they belong to a party or are independents...?

Because a block in a party can have outsized influence (as you so duly note), and the party itself can be a countervailing interest.

someone who is either ever farther out than she is

She is "further out" in what sense? Does she advocate smashing of the state? The dictatorship of the proletariat? Abolition of private property? Nationalizing Hollywood?

She also brings up a couple of criticisms I have not mentioned: http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-boxer-senate-visitors-20150121-story.html

wj,

This article raises some interesting points about this issue, specifically wrt California. I'd be open to ranked choice voting. Non-partisan delineation of district boundaries seems also a long overdue reform (something even a partisan like me supports):

http://www.fairvote.org/research-and-analysis/blog/fix-the-top-two-primary-admirable-goals-dont-justify-indefensible-outcomes/

No way in hell he would have won a Republican primary, and everybody here knows it.

agree. but be careful of what you ask for!

http://www.dailynews.com/government-and-politics/20131007/californias-recall-arnold-schwarzenegger-era-changed-nothing

I don't know enough about the nitty gritty of politics to know what effects this idea would have.

I gather wj's bigger issue is that centrists are thought to be extinct. Depends on the issue and what one defines as the center, but it does seem to be a common observation that the parties are very polarized these days. I always wanted the Democrats to go far to the left, but seeing how crazy the Republicans are these days I find myself almost wishing for the days when both parties contained a mixture of live pedals and conservatives and centrists--the Democrats of course were more to the left on average, but there was Much more ideological overlap.

It startles me to find myself thinking like this, since I've loathed centrist self-regard--it always seemed to me that centrists thought they were automatically correct simply by virtue of being in the middle between two extremes as they saw them. But seeing how far the Republicans have drifted towards utter lunacy, maybe we need two less polarized, ideologically mixed parties if on,y to keep the crazy right in check.

My IPad is doing its little editing thing again. "Live pedals" is apparently a corrected version of my attempt to spell "liberals".

maybe we need two less polarized, ideologically mixed parties if on,y to keep the crazy right in check.

But what forces will auger such a transformation?

Right now, the two major parties are fairly polarized. More polarized, according to some observers, than at any time since prior to the Civil War.

There are reasons as to why this is so.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/13/opinion/it-takes-a-party.html?_r=1

There are, consequently, reasons why "a pox on both your houses" is not being very smart.

Climate change being one really, really, big one.

And here I am a way "out there" political outlier on most social and economic issues. And I shall never cease my bitter and unending invective against so-called mainstream Dems.

But I have never voted for a Republican, no matter how good the candidate, nor however bad the Dem opponent....because at a bedrock level the GOP is against everything I stand for and voting 3d party is a wasted effort.

It startles me to find myself thinking like this, since I've loathed centrist self-regard--it always seemed to me that centrists thought they were automatically correct simply by virtue of being in the middle between two extremes as they saw them.

Agree. As the GOP has gone off to la la land the space for constructive mutual concessions has shrunk dramatically.

Finding the center? What was it that Vonnegut wrote about fool's errands? I am old and senile, but it might come back to me.

I can't speak for other states. But what we seem to have seen in California, as our Republicans have been sojourning in la-la land, is the Democrats expanding to encoumpass even mild conservatives -- basically any politician who was not a far right nut case. (Again, this is based on what I have seen in California. Republicans elsewhere may be different.)

As noted, since the top-two primaries came along, we seem to be getting more Republican candidates who are mildly conservative pramatists. But without that, we semed headed towards a Democratic Parryt which ran from far left to solid right. Opposed by a Republican Party which was interested in ideological purity rather than winning elections. Let alone actually governing -- not that there was any chance of that arising.

Bobbyp--I don't really disagree with any of that. But I look at how the Republicans seem to be drifting further and further to the right and wonder if there is any way to stop this. Maybe it can't be stopped. Maybe, as wj suggests, it just turns out that the Democrats expand to include everyone from the center right to the far left.

One serious drawback of the top two primary is that it can produce very unpopular results if there are a very large number of candidates in the primary. When that happens, candidates with narrow but deep support can wind up winning the top two spots in the primary with relatively small fractions of the total vote, resulting in a ballot for the general election that has no candidates the majority of the electorate is happy with.

My worry is that this will perversely wind up giving the party bigwigs a more important role. To avoid splitting the vote in the primary, parties will wind up having a kind of shadow caucus where the party leaders decide which plausible candidates are allowed to run and which ones aren't. We've already seen something like that with the Democratic party quickly coalescing behind Kamala Harris as the anointed successor to Barbara Boxer.

The impact of a lot of candidates with roughly equivalent positions splitting the vote is, indeed, a problem in a "top-two" primary system. But then, it is a problem in a party primary election as well.

And like Roger, I'm not sure there is a solution. At least that there is a solution which doesn't head us back towards the days of "smoke-filled rooms."

Maybe, as wj suggests, it just turns out that the Democrats expand to include everyone from the center right to the far left.

I do have a serious question in my mind. When the (California) Republicans have gone far enough, and narrowed their base enough, what happens? Specifically, do the Democrats split into a liberal party and a center-right party?

I'm guessing that the "top two" primary system will tend to work against that. But we shall see in time, I suppose.

And like Roger, I'm not sure there is a solution.

I don't think there's a solution within the basic concept of a primary/general/first-past-the-post voting system, which means we need to abandon that part of our system and try something really different. My personal preference is for approval voting: vote for as many candidates as you like; the winner is the candidate with the most votes. It allows voters to express more preferences than the current system, encouraging candidates who have broad appeal and diminishing the importance of strategic voting. At the same time, it's easy to understand, easy to vote, and easy to count. That's a big deal for a state like California, where the ballots are already dauntingly large and complex.

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