California’s top-two primary system — technically known as an open blanket primary — is attracting national attention, thanks to fears that it could disadvantage Democrats in several House races in Southern California. And with Democrats keen on retaking the House, anything that might affect the margin of victory is cause for concern among progressive voters.
For California voters in the affected districts, it’s important to understand what’s at stake so they can vote strategically and encourage their family, friends and coworkers to do the same. For everyone else, it’s a lesson in unintended consequences.
In an open blanket primary, all candidates for a given race — such as a House seat — are listed together on the ballot, allowing voters of all political parties to vote for whoever they prefer. The top two vote-getters advance to the general election. In addition to California, Washington state and Nebraska also use this system.
Proponents say the top-two system allows voters to select the candidates they feel best represent them. But in a big field, it can result in a split vote that causes some unexpected consequences. For example, in 2016, the blanket primary system allowed two Democratic Senate candidates – Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez — to face off in the general election, effectively locking Republicans out.
This can be a problem when the ballot includes just a few people from one party, and a lot of candidates from another. Voters tend to stick to party lines, so their votes may splinter, making it impossible for any one candidate to get enough votes to claim second place. And some commentators claim that’s precisely the issue in California, where an optimistic “blue wave” has led large numbers of Democrats to file for candidacy — and left voters with a long list of …read more