Home General Steve Hill Op-Ed, Analyzing California's First Regularly-Scheduled Top-Two Election, Appears in Sacramento Bee
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Steve Hill Op-Ed, Analyzing California's First Regularly-Scheduled Top-Two Election, Appears in Sacramento Bee

Published on November 16, 2012, by in General.

The November 16 Sacramento Bee has an op-ed by Steve Hill, analyzing how California’s first regularly-scheduled top-two election worked. See it here at Hill’s own web page. Hill’s own web page has a link to the Sacramento Bee, for readers who are already signed up to read articles at the Bee on-line.

14 Responses

  1. Be Rational

    The near term results of “top-two” are a failed electoral system with little choice and a less representative legislature. It only gets worse over time.

    The final result of “top-two” if they get their way and spread this evil system across America is the end of free elections and the creation of a one-party state controlled by the state under a ruling elite.

  2. :-)

    @1 here, here!! STOP THE EVIL F@$CI$T TOP TWO SYSTEM WHEREVER AND WHENEVER IT IS PROPOSED!!!

  3. Jim Riley

    That can hardly be called an analysis. Steven Hill believes that if he can destroy other reforms that voters will adopt the one true pure reform. The SEIU and public sector unions snicker as the most likely result of a reactionary rollback is more power for them.

    A real runoff is different than an instant runoff because it gives voters an opportunity to consider the merits of the leading candidates. Clint Reilly, who was Quentin Kopp’s campaign manager in the mayoral race against Diane Feinstein notes that it was in the runoff campaign where Feinstein began to assert and define herself. This was crucial to her becoming senator.

    So let’s look at the Assembly elections:

    AD 1. Dahle expands 6% lead into 31% rout, apparently attracting support of Democrats, Greens, and Libertarians in a R-R contest for an open seat.
    Top 2 is better.

    AD 2. Incumbent Chesbro easily wins primary and general. Same result as partisan primary election (PPE).

    AD 3. Incumbent Logue easily wins re-election. Same result as PPE.

    AD 4. Incumbent Yamada repeats win from 2-candidate primary, picking up 3% on increased Democrat turnout.

    AD 5. Bigelow reverses result of primary. Under a conventional PPE with plurality nomination Oller would have been elected. Opponents of Top 2 will whine about how there were no Democrats in the general election, because of a 2-way split in the primary. But Republicans received 65% of the vote in the primary, and it is an erroneous supposition that multiple candidates for a party will simply split the vote and not attract any new votes. Big win for Top 2.

    AD 6. Gaines makes huge gain in R-R contest in heavily R district, but result is same as PPE.

    AD 7. Incumbent Democrat Dickinson improves by 2% in repeat of primary. Same result as PPE.

    AD 8. Democrat Cooley wins on increased turnout by Democrats, plus failure of Republican support to coalesce. Cooley received 42.8% in primary and 53.4% in general which is a somewhat large gain for a Democrat in Northern California. This illustrates the effect of 4 Republican candidates collectively receiving more votes than a single candidate would. Same result as PPE. It is quite possible that this would have elected a Republican under IRV as voters would tend to be more likely to rank all R’s ahead of the single D.

    AD 9. Democratic incumbent Pan wins just like he would under PPE.

    AD 10. Challenger Levine ousts incumbent Allen in a reversal of the primary result, in a district with
    a 3-to-1 Democratic registration advantage. Big win for Top 2 over PPE and IRV.

    So Top 2 was better in 4 of 10 districts, including a 3 open seats. PPE and Top 2 were about the same in 6 districts with incumbents.

  4. Demo Rep

    ANTI-Democracy gerrymanders control.

    1/2 votes x 1/2 gerrymander areas = 1/4 indirectly CONTROL — with or without the top 2 primary.

    P.R. NOW — regardless of ALL math morons on Mother Earth.

  5. Jim Riley

    AD 11. Same result as PPE in strongly D district.

    AD 12. 3% swing to D candidate in 2-candidate race in mildly R district.

    AD 13. Same result as PPE in D district. In the primary, 3Ds faced 2Rs, with general only 1% swing to D, demonstrating effect of more candidates attract more voters.

    AD 14. Unopposed D.

    AD 15. P&F qualifies for general as write-in candidate, and get 13.3% in general.

    AD 16. 2.4% swing to D in 2-candidate race.

    AD 17. 1.9% swing to D in 2-candidate race

    AD 18. Bonta hangs on for narrow win in a D-D race, in a district with a 7:1 D:R registration advantage. Advocates of PPE would have favored a plurality winner in the Democratic primary crushing a Republican who would not have qualified for a Top 3 election.

    AD 19. Ting wins easily in D-D contest in 5:1 D:R registration district.

    AD 20. Quirk holds on for narrow victory in a 7:2 D-D contest.

    So Top 2 was better in 3 of 10 districts, including 3 open seats. The other 7 were about the same, including 5 which had 2 or fewer candidates to start with.

  6. Jim Riley

    AD 21 Gray wins in competitive district, with likely same result as PPE.

    AD 22 Mullin wins easily in rematch of primary.

    AD 23 Patterson wins R-R contest in strong Republican district.

    AD 24 Would have been same result under PPE.

    AD 25 Wieckowski easily wins in strong D district. This narrowly missed being a D-D contest.

    AD 26 Conway easily wins in 2-person race that was rematch of primary.

    AD 27 Campos wins in 2-person race.

    AD 28 Fong wins rematch of 2-person primary. Under PPE it is unlikely that Walsh would have attempted to run as independent.

    AD 29 Stone wins in race that would have been same under PPE.

    AD 30 Alejo wins in rematch of 2-person primary.

    So Top 2 performs better than PPE in 3 districts, about the same in 7.

  7. Jim Riley

    AD 31 Bennett parlays write-in nomination into 37% of general election. Bennett would not have qualified under the old system, and might not have even tried.

    AD 32 Salas wins in district with majority Democratic registration, but where 3 Republicans ran for nomination, and may have picked up cross-over votes.

    AD 33 Donnelly wins in strongly R district, same result as PPE.

    AD 34 Grove wins in 2-person race in strong R district.

    AD 35 Achadjian wins in 2-person race in R district.

    AD 36 Smith holds on for win over Fox. Strong gain for D, suggests cross-over voting in primary which might not have ended the same with a closed Republican primary.

    AD 37 Williams wins in 2-person race.

    AD 38 Wilk wins easily in R district. Lots more votes cast for Republicans in primary.

    AD 39 D-D race in strongly Democratic district.

    AD 40 Repeat of 2-person race in competitive district.

    Top 2 performs better in 5 of 10.

    Through first 40, 15 districts have better results.

  8. Be Rational

    The problem with the nonsense above, Riley, is that the voters had no choice and candidates had no opportunity to run. In effect, the state cancelled the General Election in CA in 2012. They put their favored candidates on the ballot and excluded the rest. Millions of voters stayed home.

    CA is going down a financial toilet these days and the government power elite is hell bent on staying in power, hence the “top two” solution to guarantee their hold on power and prevent the presentation of actual solutions to the problems. The extreme f a s c i s t – s o c i a l i s t s who are called “moderate” by Riley and his cabal are the evil creators of the problems.

    Over time, if “top two” spreads, the power of the elite will insure that there will be no choice – nationwide. The only option remaining to the disenfranchised would be violence and revolution. One of the strengths of a real democratic election is that every group can appear on the General Election ballot and have its voice heard.

    Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building after the already discriminatory government rules killed off the Populist Party which he had been active in.

    “Top two” imposes a Soviet styled single party with a single primary controlled by the government and dominated by a government power elite on the states where it is in effect. If adopted nationwide it would lead to the end of free elections, massive violence and revolutionary movements. This would most likely lead to a massive totalitarian government lock down and then who knows …

  9. Jim Riley

    AD 41 results similar to PPE.

    AD 42 repeat of 2-candidate primary.

    AD 43 repeat of 2-candidate primary.

    AD 44 same result as PPE.

    AD 45 repeat of 2-candidate primary.

    AD 46. Democrats hold 3:1 registration majority, and 5 Democrats faced 1 Republican in primary. The single Republican finished 2nd by a narrow margin (31 votes over the 3rd place candidate, and 0.8% ahead of the 4th place candidate, both Republicans). The Republican gained 9.3% in the general election, despite the greater share of Democratic voters.

    There may have some strategic desertions by Republicans who expected their candidate to finish out of the Top 2, and voted for the candidate they perceived as the least worst Democrat. Or some Democrats and independents may have been sore losers, or voted based on names. Of course overall, the winner picked up 4/5 of the support from the eliminated candidates. Party is decisive in most voters’ votes, but not all voters’ votes.

    AD 47 Strong reversal of votes in D-D race in strong Democratic (2:1) district. Joe Baca, Jr. led the primary 42.3% to 29.0% for Cheryl Brown, which was slightly more than the 27.8% combined vote for two Republican candidates.

    Brown won the general election, 56.2% to 43.8% as she very nearly doubled her vote share. This doesn’t happen under IRV, and she would have been eliminated in a PPE.

    Baca, Jr. may have suffered from too much name recognition. His father, US Rep. Joe Baca was defeated in a similar D-D contest. Baca, Jr. was previously elected to the Assembly in 2004, but was defeated in the 2006 Democratic primary as he attempted to jump to the senate. His brother Jeremy also lost in 2006 as he attempted to take over Joe, Jr’s assembly seat.

    AD 48 Hernandez wins going away in general after trailing in the primary, which also included an independent candidate. Primary: Hernandez (D) 43.4%; Gardner (R) 45.6%; Meza (I) 11.0%. General: Hernandez (D) 58.4%; Gardner 41.6%.

    Under the old system, Meza probably would not have qualified for the general election, or even tried. But if he had, he would have been a potential spoiler with his 11.0% representing 5 times the margin between Gardner and Hernandez, in a race where it appears that Meza voters preferred Hernandez to Gardner.

    AD 49. Reversal of primary result, in which Republican Lin had 52.2% against two Democrats. Under IRV there would not have been a runoff.

    AD 50. Bloom defeats incumbent Butler in a D-D matchup where both the primary and general were extremely close. In the primary with 3 Democrats and 1 Republican, 1.3% separated 1st from 4th. Under the old system, Bloom would have won the nomination with 34.1% of the vote in a 3-way contest, and then trounced the Republican in a district where Democrats have a 3:1 registration advantage.

    Bloom won the general election with 50.1% of the vote. It is quite possible that Republican and independent voters were decisive in this race.

    That’s an additional 5 wins for Top 2, or 20 of 50.

  10. Jim Riley

    AD 51 D-D matchup in 5.5:1 Democratic district which had 5 Democratic candidates in the primary (and no others). Top 2 insured all voters chose assemblyman and with majority support, rather than plurality winner among Democrats only.

    AD 52 Same as PPE.

    AD 53 Easy win for incumbent in very Democratic district.

    AD 54 Easy win for incumbent in 63% Democratic district.

    AD 55 repeat of 2-candidate primary in Republican leaning district.

    AD 56 repeat of 2-candidate primary.

    AD 57 primary had 2 Democrats and 1 Republican in somewhat Democrat-leaning district. Narrowness of margin between Democrat candidates who finished 2nd and 3rd (28.8% to 27.5%) suggest that independents were decisive in choosing the ultimate winner.

    AD 58 Result same as PPE in strongly Democratic district. Republican candidate did slightly better in general election, despite increased Democratic participation. This shows the effect that when there are a large number of Democratic candidates (5) and a single Republican, that some independents and perhaps some Republicans will vote their primary vote on factors other than party.

    AD 59 Democrats hold 10:1 registration advantage here and 5 Democrats faced off in primary. Note closeness of general election vs primary. A result like that does not happen under IRV. Robinson had the opportunity to make his case one on one against the leader from the primary.

    AD 60 This is the reverse of AD 58 in a Republican leaning district with 3 Republican candidates and 1 Democrat, and the Democrat improved by 14.4% in the general election.

    That’s an additional wins for Top 2, or 25 of 60.

  11. Jim Riley

    AD 61 Medina improves by 15% over primary in competitive district where Republicans had narrow majority in primary.

    AD 62 Bradford easily wins in D-D race in district with 4:1 D:R registration advantage.

    AD 63 Rendon wins easily in district with 3.5:1 D:R registration advantage.

    AD 64 Hall is unopposed in primary and general.

    AD 65 Quirk-Silva wins narrowly in rematch of primary improving by 10.4%

    AD 66 Muratsuchi wins narrowly, improving by 11.3% over primary where he faced two Republicans.

    AD 67 Melendez wins in strongly Republican district, where the general election served as a runoff for the Top 2 among 5 candidates. Melendez finished 2nd.

    AD 68 Rematch of two-person primary in strongly Republican district.

    AD 69 Daly wins in 2:1 Democratic district. This narrowly missed being a D-D contest. The Republican Moreno picked up 11% over the primary where he faced 4 Democrats. Ethnicity may have played a factor as the other 4 candidates have Spanish surnames.

    AD 70 Lowenthal easily wins re-election in two candidate race.

    That’s 6 wins for Top 2, or 31 of 70.

  12. Jim Riley

    AD 71 Incumbent Jones re-elected in strongly Republican district.

    AD 72 R-R in very Republican district, where the 3rd place Republican in the primary was within 33 votes of the top Democrat. Assemblyman elect Allen overcame an 8% deficit in the primary to win by 11%. That is why IRV is bad.

    AD 73 Repeat of 2-person race in heavily Republican district.

    AD 74 Mansoor re-elected in Republican district.

    AD 75 Repeat of primary in 2-candidate race.

    AD 76 Chavez wins R-R contest in strongly Republican district, extending 6% lead to 16%.

    AD 77 Maienschein wins in result that is same as PPE, except for an independent on the primary ballot.

    AD 78 Atkins re-elected in Democratic-leaning district.

    AD 79 Weber wins in open Democratic-leaning district. This performed very similar to PPE due to the parties having clear favorites (Weber had more votes than the other 3 Democrats combined).

    AD 80 Repeat of 2-candidate primary.

    So 3 more wins for Top 2, or 34 of 80.

  13. Jim Riley

    Reasons why Top 2 Open Primary is better than Partisan Primary

    (1) Opportunity for independent candidates to run. In the June 2012 primary for Assembly there were 9 independent candidates. In the 11 previous elections from 1990 through 2010 there were 2. The frequency is 49.5 times as great (i.e. a 4850% increase).

    (2) Opportunity for all voters to participate on an equal basis in all stages of the election. In a partisan primary, voters are restricted to only voting for candidates of their party, even if their party doesn’t have anyone running for an office.

    In California, unaffiliated voters may *request* a party ballot if a party permits them to vote. But it is a clumsy procedure, particularly for mail voters. In 2010, 3/5 of unaffiliated voters who actually voted did not request a partisan ballot, while 1/5 chose the Democratic ballot and 1/5 chose the Republican ballot.

    There is huge differential turnout among parties. In 2010, 43.7% of registered Republicans voted in the primary; 32.0% Democrats; 27.% of Greens and Libertarians; 21.3% of American Independents; and only 10.9% of P&F voters; and 23.5% of non-affiliated voters (includes those affiliated with non-qualified parties).

    While Republicans made up 30.8% of registered voters, they made up 40.4% of the primary electorate. Unaffiliated voters made up 20.4% of the registered voters and 14.3% of the primary electorate. The 4 minor parties with 3.8% of registration made up 2.6% of the electorate.

    While voters were choosing party nominees, they were also electing non-partisan officers such as county supervisors and voting on ballot measures. The media focus on partisan races results in a tendency to exclude less partisan voters.

    A relatively small faction can control a partisan primary. Imagine a group that represents only 20% of a party’s registration, but has been identified, and the GOTV effort is more effective – they get a mailer plus a phone call or help voting by mail. Other voters have to be self motivated or depend on the news media. The special interest group has 40% turnout, the general group only 30%. The special interest group is thus 25% of the primary electorate. Because they are more effective, they persuade 80% of their voters to vote for their preferred candidate. If the random, self-motivated voters vote 60% for another candidate, it is a tie vote.

    The special interest group can thus leverage their influence in a partisan primary system, not necessarily by discouraging turnout, but selective encouraging it. Under Top 2 there is a risk in not turning out voters who are receptive to your party’s candidates.

    (3) Opportunity for all voters to participate in the actual choice of representative. 33 of California’s 80 Assembly districts have a registration bias of 20% or more. When the Republicans or Democrats have that much of an advantage, the question is not whether the dominant party will win the election, but rather which candidate of the dominant party will be elected.

    Under a partisan primary system, the winner of the dominant party primary will be elected. Many voters will be prevented from voting, discouraged from voting, or not encouraged to vote in the primary. The winner may have a small plurality of the primary vote. Under the Top 2 Open Primary, all voters may vote in the first round. Candidates from the dominant party risk ignoring or alienating voters who are unaffiliated or affiliated with other parties at their own peril.

    The most partisan districts in California are around 60% Democratic registration. If you are competing against other Democrats in a Top 2 Open Primary, or another Democrat in the general election, you can’t say to the other 40% of the electorate that you don’t want their vote.

    (4) Opportunity for all voters to participate in the final choice. If there are multiple candidates running for an office, voters may pick one and give little scrutiny to the other candidates. In a plurality election, they would not get a second chance. Experts might advise them not to waste their vote on a spoiler candidate.

    In an instant runoff election, voters may quickly rank their other choices. San Francisco voters once elected a supervisor who did not live in the city, in part because many voters used their three rankings to vote for a candidate with a Chinese name. In a Top 2 election, the voters get a second chance to re-examine the top candidates before making their final decision.

    In 2012, there were 5 Assembly races where voters reversed the primary finish among the 21 contests where both candidates were of the same party. In doing so they defeated two incumbents and a former assemblyman attempting to return after a senate run. These sort of results are simply impossible in a partisan primary system.

  14. Richard Winger

    Jim, when you talk about theoretical use of IRV, you seem to be assuming the IRV election would be in June. But it wouldn’t be in June; it would be in November, just as San Francisco city elections for Mayor, the other city executive jobs, and supervisor are in November.

    Furthermore, if California used IRV, federal law would require the congressional elections to be in November.

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