Californias Jungle Primary System: Analysts Discuss Its Merits and Faults

Californians enter the jungle on March 3—the so-called “jungle primaries.”

Californias primaries are different than in most states. In the statewide and legislative races, as well as U.S. Senate and U.S. House races, voters have a variety of candidates to choose from—regardless of party affiliation.

Its one of only a few states that conducts its primaries this way. It means that as a result of the primaries on March 3, Californians in some districts may have a choice between two Democrats and no Republicans on the November ballot. Or—though less likely—two Republicans and no Democrats.

The term “jungle” refers to a free-for-all where the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, go on to compete in the general election.

The presidential race is an exception. Republican voters vote on Republican candidates. Voters who are registered as either Democrats or as having “no party preference” can vote for Democratic candidates.

The “jungle primary” system has been in place since 2012, with the hope that it would give a greater variety of candidates a fighting chance and prevent partisan deadlock in the legislature.

Each year, analysts keep an eye on the impacts this system actually has on elections and debate whether its doing what its supposed to.

How It Began

In 2009, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger backed the primary reform as a remedy for polarized politics, and as part of a concession to end a 100-day budget impasse. It went on the ballot in 2010, and voters supported it, so it took effect in 2012.

The idea is that it would lead to more moderate choices. Democratic candidates would have to appeal to Republican voters as well as Democrats and Independents. Republicans would likewise have to appeal to voters outside their party.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
A file photo of former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

In most races since the reform, it has turned out that one Democrat and one Republican emerge as the top two contenders anyway. But each time, in some districts, voters end up seeing same-party contests. And its usually a choice of two Democrats.

In 2018, for example, voters could choose only between two Democrats for the U.S. Senate, Dianne Feinstein and Kevin de León. In three districts, voters had a choice between two Democrats for House seats. In one district, voters had a choice between two Republicans. And in five districts, voters had a choice between a Democrat and either a Green candidate or a non-partisan candidate.

Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed dislike and praise for the system.

Dislike of the System

“Short of rolling the dice or picking names out of a hat, there is no electoral system more likely to produce random results than the top-two primary,” said Republican strategist Ron Nehring.

In a recent interview with The Epoch Times, Nehring—who has opposed the primary reform from day one—reiterated his stance, claiming its been worse than people anticipated. He cited Californias last two U.S. Senate elections as examples.

In 2016, the U.S. Senate election was also a choice between two Democrats, Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez.

“These were North Korean-style elections,” he said. “You can elect a Democrat or you can elect a Democrat.”

Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, said that jungle primaries are unfair because they have led to a one-party state and have depressed voter turnout.

“If a person doesnt really have a choice at the grassroots level in the congressional district, they just dont turn out,” Hanson told The Epoch Times.

An analysis by the L.A. Times after the 2018 primaries found “three races were passed over by millions of voters. In each, both hopefuls were Democrats and the under-vote was substantial.”

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
People cast their ballot at the South Whittier Community Resource Center in Whittier, Calif., for the presidential primary on Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

The suggestion is that voters become apathetic in same-party races and they leave the ballots blank for those.

Hanson said some Democratic candidates have appealed to would-be Republican voters by suggesting they are more “Republican” than their fellow Democrat contenders. But that this tactic is not representative of true Republican platforms. Their platforms still favor the Democratic agenda.

Eric C. Bauman, former chair of the California Democratic Party, has long been vocal about his dislike of the system.

Hes had to convince Democratic candidates to drop out of the races so as not to divide the Democrat vote across too many candidates. If Republican voters can unite behind one or two Republican candidates, they have a chance of shutting Democrats out in a district, even if Republican voters are a minority there. The Democrats have to ensure their votes arent spread too thinly between many candidates.

Bauman told the New York Times in 2018 that the system had “turned out about as poorly as I knew it would. … Inevitably we get blocked out of a few races and they get blocked out of a few. Thats the way this thing works.”

“I think it sucks,” he told the Atlantic that year.

Praise of the System

Tony Quinn, a political analyst who served on the Fair Political Practices Commission for five years, supports the states top-two primary system.

“I think its the best thing that ever happened to California,” Quinn told The Epoch Times. “Now you give the people a real choice. I think it worked out well. I think the public likes it. … What youre getting is a real contest when the majority of voters are Democratic.”

He acknowledged California is now a “one-party state.” He said, “The vast majority of our districts are heavily Democratic, and its absolutely ridiculous in San Francisco to have a Republican in a run-off for a legislative district when Republicans are less than 10 percent of registered voters.”

Others have also made the argument that, under the old primary system, Republican voters would be guaranteed to have Republican candidates on the November ballot, but those candidates had little chance of actually being elected to office by voters in the blue state.

On the other hand, with the top-two system, even if its a choice between two Democrats, one of those Democrats Read More – Source

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