NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In 2010, voters in California enacted a “Top Two” nonpartisan primary system, allowing all voters-whether registered to a party or not- to participate in primary elections.
Open Primaries, a national leader on election reform, has released a new report outlining the deep and meaningful impact that this change has had on California politics.
A Quiet Revolution: The Early Successes of California’s Top Two Nonpartisan Primary outlines the sea change in voter access and representation, competitive elections, and a new, more cooperative state legislature engaged in cross party dialogue.
The authors of the reform are Jason Olson, the President of Independentvoice.org, a San Francisco based organization of independent voters, and Dr. Omar Ali, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and expert scholar on populist democracy movements.
“Quantifying the performance of a state legislature is a notoriously difficult task. Performance is, by definition, subjective. We can assert that legislators who win office by building broad coalitions do the same once in office. An electoral system that incentivizes candidates to reach beyond the activist base of their own party produces similar behavior once in office.”
- Jason Olson and Omar Ali, A Quiet Revolution: The Early Successes of California’s Top Two Nonpartisan Primary
California used to be considered one of the most partisan political environments in the nation. Runaway deficits and gridlocked budgets were standard. A National Journal review of state governments named California among the most dysfunctional state governments in the United States.
Today, with significant reforms to their primary election system, California politics has been transformed.
The report finds that California, as a result of adoption of a top two nonpartisan primary elections system, now has:
- More Competitive Elections: Only two State Assembly and Congressional incumbents were unseated during the entire decade of 2000-2009, and both were under criminal investigation. Today, under the top two system, California elections are the most competitive in the nation.
- Increased Voter Access: Independent voters, 25% of the California electorate, can now vote in the first round. Voters registered with a political party have more choice as they can choose from candidates from all parties, not just their own. Third party candidates and third party voters are no longer excluded from the first round of elections, in which the vast majority of races were decided. African American and Latinos—who are increasingly independent—have increased their representation and voice in the state legislature.
- Functioning Legislature: The polarization in Sacramento has dissipated. Legislators, who win office by building broad coalitions, are capable of reaching across the aisle once elected. Regular balanced budgets have returned. Reforms in education financing, immigration, and gun control, reforms that would have previously provoked partisan intransigence, have been enacted.
The success of Top Two in California, coupled with similar successes in Washington and Nebraska and the growth of independent voters (43% in the latest Gallup poll), have contributed to the growth of the primary reform movement nationally. Activists in Alaska, Arizona, South Dakota, and Florida are working to place nonpartisan primary measures directly on the ballot. Legislators and Secretaries of State in Mississippi, Illinois, New Mexico and Oklahoma are working to advance legislation for open primaries.
About Open Primaries
Open Primaries is a national, nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization working to enact open and nonpartisan primary systems, counter efforts to impose closed primaries, educate voters, train and support spokespeople, and participate in the building of local, state and national open primaries coalitions. Open Primaries is a movement of diverse Americans who believe in a simple, yet radical idea: no American should be required to join a political party to exercise their right to vote.
More information about Open Primaries, its mission and work, can be found at www.openprimaries.org