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Home Who We Are Our positions on Legilsation Top Two As Seen By Its Proponents

Top Two As Seen By Its Proponents

By C. T. Weber

Posted on September 5, 2015 by the Webmaster

On August 19 I attended a forum in Sacramento where the primary focus was on "top two" elections. Billed by the sponsors as a "nonpartisan primary summit", this even was organized by two propenents top two, the Independent Voter Network (IVN) and California Forward. Some of those in attendance who are opposed to “top two” were: Debra Reiger, Peace and Freedom Party State Chair; Richard Becker, Peace and Freedom Party and Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL); Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, and board member of Californians for Electoral Reform (CfER); Paula Lee, CfER and the League of Women Voters; and myself. I'm also with the Peace and Freedom Party and on the board of CfER.

The first thing I did after signing in was to complain to a few of the organizers of the lack of balance on the panels.

Steve Peace, the man behind “top two”, introduced the first speaker, Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Padilla talked about being the son of immigrant parents who went to MIT to be an engineer. He went on to get involved in local politics and at 42 is Secretary of State. Now he is interested in automatic registration which he claims will add 6,000,000 new registered (no party preference) voters to the rolls. There were no questions as he had to leave.

The first panel was to answer the question, what is top two really about? This panel included Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (Republican from San Diego), Sacramento State University professor Kimberly Nalder, IVN attorney Chad Peace, and New York University assistant professor Andrew Sinclair. To my surprise Nalder was opposed to top two. She pointed out that Proposition 14 hurt the third parties, that there were fewer choices on the November ballot, and that turnout was very low. Peace argued that parties were private organizations and the state should not be forced to pay for their primaries. He also credited top two with legislators being more civil and collaborative. The three pro-top two panelists argued that it was not about parties but rather about voters, and they should have the right to vote at every level with no barriers. I was able to express my view that rank and file voters created party primaries to reform a corrupt system and that the organization, operations and function of parties are regulated by election laws.

The main guest speaker was State Senator Steve Glazer (Democrat from Orinda), who was elected in a special election using top two. He said that he could not have been elected under the old system, but since he came in first he would have been elected anyway. He claimed to hold Democratic Party values but was independent to analyze each issue to see how he would vote. He say that top two forced candidates to broaden their appeal.

The next panel discussed the future of nonpartisan reform. Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (Democrat from San Diego); Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (Republican from Modesto), the minority leader; California Target Book publisher Allan Hoffenblum, IVN co-chair Dan Howle: and California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) Director of Government Affairs Stephen Walker; made up this panel. Gonzalez said she had opposed top two but thought it was too early to make a judgment about it. I said that our election system gives a guise of democracy but that election laws, private money and corporate media stood in the way of real representation. I was able to say that I thought top two had done real harm to the alternative parties. I said that not only are the alternative parties keep off the general election ballot but because of implementing legislation, had an 85% drop in the number of candidates that qualified for the primary ballot as well because of the huge increase in the number of signatures in lieu of filing fees. I said we had language from Legislative Counsel and needed an author to carry our bill. Gonzalez said that she would like to talk to me about it. Becker, Winger and Lee all joined in. Becker asked how, when we know that far more people vote in the general election than in the primary, can it be considered more "democratic" to have fewer choices; and how, given that moderation and collaboration have historically meant support for or toleration of slavery, denial of women's right to vote, lack of Social Security, unemployment insurance and other benefits, is increased moderation a good thing. Winger concentrated on restoring write-in votes for the general election and allowing those not registered in a ballot qualified party to list independent on their ballots, and Lee also talked about the structure of the election.

The final panel to deal with top two's effects on California elections was all pro-top two. Panelists were Assemblymember Cheryl Brown (Democrat from San Bernardino); Assemblymember Adam Gray (Democrat from Merced): California Business Roundtable representative Rob Lapsey; California Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Martin Wilson; and Keep California Golden's Pam Woudstra. The Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable representatives thought top two was having a positive effect. Then to my surprise, Dan Howle who was the moderator, called on Winger and me to say how top two had harmed third parties and then what legislation we would propose. Winger again asked that write-in be restored for the general election and that candidates be allowed to use independent as their party designation, and I again pushed for a drastic reduction in the number of signatures in lieu of filing fees. I also pointed out that we could save the taxpayers millions of dollars if we abolished the primary and used proportional representation. Lee then gave an example of creating several five member districts where candidates could be elected with 17% of the vote.

The panel's conclusion was that top two had some problems but overall it has been a success. Every voter can vote for any candidate at any stage of the process; independent candidates have equal access to the ballot and campaigns. They explained that Prop 14 was just the first step and that is still too early for us to judge the long-term results. Little credit was given to term limits, majority vote to pass the budget and voter reaction to negativity. Finally, it was pointed out that it was early in the process; more reform is needed and emphasized that this was the first step to reform and much more was needed.

C. T. Weber is an officer-at-large from Sacramento County and chairs the Legislative Committee.

For more on the effects of top two, see

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