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In the June election, for the first time, California used a top-two primary system for statewide offices. Under the system, the candidates receiving the most and second-most votes advance to the November general election — regardless of party affiliation. While supporters say top-two helps promote more moderate candidates, others criticize the system for shutting out third-party contenders.

Eric McGhee, policy fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California and author of "Open Primaries," a report prepared for the PPIC about the possible impacts of Proposition 14
Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation
Michael Feinstein, spokesperson for the Green Party of California and former city councilmember and mayor of Santa Monica
Chad Peace, president of IVC Media and legal strategist for the Independent Voter Project (IVP), EndPartisanship.org, and managing editor of IVP

  • Sean Dennehy

    By ‘promoting moderate candidates,’ the top two primary system is blocking real political choice. Choice doesn’t occur when your options all hold the same or similar ‘moderate’ political opinions. Choice occurs when you have people from all ideologies in the general election.

    • Bob Fry

      “Real” Choice happens in the primary when we can safely vote for the kooks. In November someone has to win, and I prefer a moderate.

      • Whamadoodle

        Bob Fry, so you define “kooks” as anyone who wants to reduce military spending from being several TIMES what any other country spends? Even though we haven’t been invaded in a couple of centuries? Because the system you’re defending freezes out and blacklists every candidate who doesn’t vote the Pentagon a raise every single year (because $600 billion a year isn’t enough, in a world where most developed countries spend a tenth of that).

        I’m not sure “kooks” means what you think it means.

  • Bob Fry

    Small parties are small because they have fringe ideas. Make your party appeal to more people and get on the November ballot. Fringe voters can always vote for you in the primary, as I do (Green).

    • Sean Dennehy

      That’s not true. The same ideologies that you think are ‘fringe’ get elected in the UK, France, Australia, Germany, etc. Unless those countries have more fringe views, I don’t think your analysis is correct.

      • Bob Fry

        OF COURSE those countries are more open to other ideas! America is very conservative and traditional…where have you been all these years?

    • Whamadoodle

      I disagree–small parties are small because the media, who are bought and paid for by the two parties’ advertising dollars, either don’t let them see the light of day, or marginalize them and cast them as crazy.

    • Paul Fretheim

      The Dems and Repubs control the money and hence own the elections. Do you know that the initiative that limited the general to two candidates also has a clause that prohibits County Clerks from counting write in votes. Why would the authors of this bill eliminate write-ins if they were really concerned about democracy?

    • CTWeber

      Candidates that hold principaled viewsdon’t get elected because the elections are rigged, legally rigged, huge amounts of money and the corporate media.

  • Chemist150

    It’s blocking second party candidates. Anyone who actually believes that the current system is fair is either not honest with themselves because they’re getting to vote for a candidate they like or they’re crooked.

  • Whamadoodle

    Geez! Caller (at ~9:33), end a sentence once in your life. Periods are your friend, run-on dude!

  • Bob Fry

    Michael F. comes across as one of the die-hard fanatics that just cause division and strife. Don’t let these people run government!

    • Theodora Crawford

      Name calling isn’t helpful. Shame!

    • Chris OConnell

      He sounded reasonable to me.

  • Whamadoodle

    With the amount of money trundling constantly from campaigns to the media, no third-party candidate challenge ever sees the light of day.

    Ralph Nader was a nationally-known, world-famous consumer advocate for DECADES before he ran in 1996. Can anyone find me ANY mentions of his 1996 candidacy? Find me one mention of his 1996 candidacy in the news. I’ll wait. There was hardly any until 2000, when he was cast by EVERY talking head with a mouth as a fringe candidate who spoiled the vote–alas, alack, you see what these lousy third parties do to us, with their wacky ideas? Cautionary tale. Better vote Democrat/Republican, or you’ll split the vote!

    It’s a blacklist, driven by campaign money that goes to the media and locks other ideas out.

  • Chemist150

    A lot of potential third party votes go to one of the two dominant parties because they “know” the third party will not win… That’s why rank voting can work. It allows everyone to vote their conscience before voting for the lesser of evils without fear of losing a say in the “least objectionable candidate”.
    Detailed analysis of elections with rank voting would show where “most” people truly are.

  • TimDoyle

    Come on. The disingenuous of the Top Two argument is crap

  • TimDoyle

    Why do the US Senate and Congress only have two parties? Coke and Pepsi?

    • It’s called Duverger’s law (you can look it up). A plurality (“winner-take-all”) system promotes the development of just two major parties. A proportional system promotes the development of a thriving multi-party democracy.

  • Rob

    When registering to vote after becoming a citizen, I was staggered to be asked to designate a party preference. Further, in the polling station when I gave my name to vote, the poll worker called out that party choice to her colleague who was to hand me my ballot. This surely violates the essential notion of a secret ballot. With the electoral changes this is no longer an issue since everybody gets the same ballot, but there is also no compelling reason for the state to be involved in collecting party preference information, and this practice should be discontinued. Let the parties fund their own recruiting, and get the state out of the business of producing party mailing lists.

  • Chemist150

    Swalwell is mostly horrible! He is my “representative”. I had no choice in voting for a candidate I wanted. Swalwell’s platform is not different than his predecessor. Eric Swalwell is a career politician with no real concept of the private sector and simply panders to minority groups trying to raise money and votes.
    I watched him a border security panel and healthcare overhaul panel. When his turn to ask question came, he simply guided the questions to support Obama’s stance and overtly mentioned Obama’s position. This was in place of him having studied the issues and asking question from the person in front of the panel so that he could understand it even better. Swalwell is a “ME TOO” politician disconnected from the private sector and the trends which are occurring.

    • stevekamp

      He gets elected which is more than i can say for you. Those minority groups you trash may be the majority. Obama won twice. Get over it.

      • Chemist150

        Right. He did get elected under a corrupt system that excludes other parties. Two people with the same platform… Of course the younger better looking one gets elected. Put him up against a blood woman.

        • stevekamp

          I voted against top two, which is the source of your problem. Are you suggesting each party should be entitled to name a candidate even if they finish in third or lesser place in the primary?

          • Chemist150

            I want rank voting. The major parties should get some representation on the final ballot. A lot fewer people vote in the primaries which can create a skewed result that is not representative. Top two is fine, but it absolutely should not be limited to two people with the same platform.

  • Sam Badger

    The proponents of the bill assume that “moderate” candidates are better. There is no “moderate” solution to global warming, poverty, civil rights, and numerous other issues. Finding “moderate” politicians has just prevented us from ever even dealing with problems.

  • Brian

    If the IVP representative is so opposed to partisan politics, why is he using the disparaging label Democrat Party to refer to the Democratic Party? Is he a Republican?

  • Robert

    Being neither a fan of democratic nor republican doctrine; the notion that only two candidates will be on the California ballot is saddening to me. I use the word saddening because the most wonderful thing about America’s political system is that we, the citizens, can vote into office the candidate we choose. Not having an option for a third candidate will take away a choice. As a young Californian who will be voting in the coming years, and more likely voting for a third party, not having a third choice will take away my chance to truly choose the candidate that I would like to see in office.

  • Theodora Crawford

    Thanks to Green Party, one might hope the concept of Global Warming might become understood by more people. The Republicans seem to deny the concept and the Democrats don’t make it a serious issue…Many other examples exist and require dedicated voices to bring them to public attention. Perhaps if this was available to the voters, more of them would go to the polls! As we have it now, the majority with money rule. I believe this is called Plutocracy.

  • TimDoyle

    Money is free speech according to the The Supreme John Roberts Court

    • Theodora Crawford

      A good reason to what others (socialists, envirnonmentalists, libertarians, etc) have to say. Nothing is perfect but “our democracy” isn’t either…Our 2-party system seems to be is based on who can pay the most…If one day we take the need for education seriously, perhaps people will acquire the skills to think more critically and penetrate the rhetoric that poses for political proposals.

  • Another Mike

    Most voters have yet to realize that the election is essentially decided back in June, when they are busy with backpack trips and barbecues.

  • Chemist150

    Thanks for the program. Also, thanks for those fighting to end the top two primary system.

  • michaelfeinstein

    On behalf of the Green Party, we want to extend the greatest thanks for this program today. I was one of the guests on today’s program. Host John Myers gave me multiple fair opportunities to address issues that affect Green voters, the Green Party, and our democracy overall – something we rarely get elsewhere in any meaningful manner. KQED deserves great recognition for providing this service. To learn more about the Green Party’s position on overturning the Top Two and replacing it with proportional representation, see this link http://www.cagreens.org/action/stop-top-two. I can personally be contact at mfeinstein@feinstein.org, my website is http://www.feinstein.org and my twitter https://twitter.com/mikefeinstein

    • Chris

      Thanks, Michael. I was looking over the Green Party voter guide, and I was interested to see that the Green Party advocates boycotting the elections that are the result of the Top Two system (Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary, etc.). To be clear, the guide advocates voting, just not for those races. I didn’t hear you mention this recommendation during the show. Could you speak to why Greens think this is a good strategy?

      • michaelfeinstein

        What you read was the Voter Guide from the Green Party of Alameda County. Here is the response from Greg Jan, one of their coordinators:

        Dear Chris,

        Thank you for writing. The only Green Party voter guide that I’m aware of which advocates “boycotting” the statewide partisan races is the Guide that’s published by the Green Party of Alameda County. (It’s the front page (upper left) article here: http://acgreens.wordpress.com/voter-guides/ ). The first paragraph of the article summarizes the anti-democratic effects of Prop. 14 (the ‘Top Two’ primary), and the 3rd paragraph explains the rationale for advocating a “boycott” — to, “make a statement against Prop. 14”. However, this is only the official position of the Alameda County chapter of the Green Party of California (each county Green Party is free to adopt their own positions on this subject). While there briefly was some discussion on one of our statewide listserves about the possibility of a statewide boycott of these partisan races, the discussion soon fizzled, and the idea was never pursued by the state party. So therefore, because this wasn’t an official “Green Party of California” position, I didn’t mention it on the show. But as I did say, the ‘Top Two’ system doesn’t leave most Greens with any choices that they really believe in, so I suspect that lots of Greens throughout California will probably end up not voting for most of these partisan Democratic and Republican party candidates anyway. In other words, whether it’s a “formal boycott”, or whether it’s just “individual disgust” with the lack of real choices, I think that the end result for many Greens will be, that they won’t be voting in most of these ‘Top Two’-“tainted” partisan races.

        Thanks again for your interest,
        Greg Jan

        • James Ogle

          That’s great news that the California Green Party has finally decided to support pure proportional representation (PR).

          I ran for Governor of California in 1994 as a Green on a platform of state voting reform through pure proportional representation.

          The 9th USA Parliament has been using PR for 19 consecutive years since we first united a Green and an Environmentalist Party POTUS candidate on a 100-member committee on August 6th, 1995.

          Because of that Google Inc. actually derived their name from my logo Joogle (derived from James Orlando Ogle when Sergie Brin asked “What is a Joogle?) in October 1997 when we helped them with their logo and the page rank advertising system.

          Read the story “How Google got their name” when the Parliament’s activists helped them become a multi-billion dollar gateway:

          Check out the National United Coalition:

  • Stan

    Keeping talking about “this Democratic” or “that Republican” candidates reinforces the validity of Prop 14. Many voters today keep casting their ballot along party lines (“I don’t know anything about this guy/gal but he/she’s a Dem, so that’s what I’m going to vote for”). The result of a Primary election where two candidates from the same party end up on the November ballot will actually promote more citizen engagement in the political process as one will actually have to look at the candidate’s stance instead of his/her label.

    • Chemist150

      By forcing people to vote for someone that does not represent their views. It sickens me. It wrong.

  • Jim Riley

    How to make Top 2 even better:

    1) Move primary to September, so entire process is more visible and coherent.

    2) Permit a candidate who receives a majority in the primary to be elected. This would require a change in federal statute for congressional offices, so until Congress acts, this would apply to statewide offices and legislature.

    3) Recognize parties with 100 or more registrants as political parties. The current ban on these parties violates the 1st Amendment, equivalent provisions of the California Constitution, the California Constitution provisions to have no regard for party preference of voters for candidates or voters, and the clear language of the enabling legislation for Proposition 14.

    4) Add a major party status, for making endorsements in voters pamphlet, and holding presidential ballot.

    5) Make party officer elections mail-only elections held in odd years. Let parties devise their election systems, and ballots. The state would simply print the ballots, mail them out, and collect the returned ballots. The parties would be responsible for counting their own ballots. Better yet would be to completely get the state out of party affairs, but that requires a change to the California Constitution.

    6) Make presidential primary a direct primary. If a party doesn’t want a direct primary, they could arrange their own nominating activities.

    7) Reduce petition requirements for presidential candidates, and permit parties to endorse petition candidates, with the endorsement appearing on the ballot.

    8) Make special elections mail-only IRV elections. IRV ballots with a single race, are easy for the voters, who simply use numerals, and easy to count without need for special tabulation equipment.

    9) Permit write-ins in general election, barring sore losers from the primary. If the winner does not get 40% of the vote, hold another round.

    10) Make qualification for the ballot by petition, based on percentage of electorate (0.1% of gubernatorial vote). This would increase signatures for statewide office, but reduce them for congressional, legislative, and local office. Permit payment of a fee in lieu of the petition, with the fee based on the minimum wage, and some collection rate, say 6 per hour.

    11) List candidates by votes received or alphabetically, not by party.

  • Menelvagor

    what a stupid conversation. Isn’t obvious why there should be other parties? People are sick of your fascist crap!

  • CTWeber

    There has been a 70% drop in the number of alternative party candidates in the primary as the number of signatures in lieu of filing fees has increased from 150 to 10,000 signatures for statewide candidates. At $2 a signature that would cost $20,000 which is not a reasonable alternative to the $2,500 to $3,500 filing fees. This for the opportunity to be on the ballot of the much smaller, less visible and much less significant primary election. It true that between 20% and 25% of the voters have no party preference, but that means that 75% to 80% are registered with a party. Why should 23% tell the other 77% how elections should be run. If we want real reform, let abolish the primary and hold one general election using proportional representation in multi-member districts where several candidates are elected to office. That way if a party gets 50% of the vote in a 10 member district that party gets 50% of the seats (5) and if a party or independent candidate gets 10% of the vote in a 10 member district that party gets 10% of the seats (1). That way the majority is protected and minorities get a voice and representation.

  • You can vote for whomever you want, just as long as it’s one of the two candidates running for the position, and just as long as it’s a Democrat or a Republican.

    I received my California mail-in ballot last week. I was very disappointed to see that I can only vote for a Democrat or a Republican for every state position (Governor, Treasurer, State Assembly, etc). There are *no* third party candidates allowed for any position, and there isn’t even a place for a write-in candidate. Did Proposition 14 even mention that it would eliminate the option to *write-in* a candidate?

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