Top-Two election system threatens politics-as-usual in California


Better vote. The Party-formerly-known-as-Republican may make it your last.

Running against the Vietnam War, Representative Pete Stark entered Congress the year Richard M. Nixon was re-elected president. Since then, ensconced in Democratic strongholds here in the Bay Area, Mr. Stark was easily re-elected 19 times.

But Mr. Stark, 80, the dean of California’s Congressional delegation, is facing a serious challenge for the first time. That is because Eric Swalwell, a fellow Democrat who became a city councilman less than two years ago in Dublin, his hometown near here, came just a few points behind Mr. Stark in the primary Now Mr. Swalwell gets to carry the fight into November — thanks to a new primary system in California under which the top two vote getters advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation…

The new primary system, coupled with California’s adoption of nonpartisan redistricting, is causing upheaval in the nation’s largest and most influential Congressional delegation…

Democracy surely is difficult for Americans to understand. Especially journalists, I guess.

Though polls indicate that President Obama has the state locked up, some of the most competitive House races are taking place across this state, often in nontraditional form. They are pitting two members of the same party against each other in seven other districts…

After voters approved electoral changes in 2010, an independent commission redrew the electoral map, making some districts more evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. In other, more homogeneous districts, the new top-two primary system has also made races more competitive by allowing the two most popular candidates from the same party to compete in the fall…

Analysts said the number of competitive races this year would make them the most expensive ever, with “super PACs” likely to pour in money. The average amount spent in the primary was $333,509, compared with $234,287 in 2010, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. The National Republican Congressional Committee has already budgeted nearly $8 million for television ads, compared with less than $1 million in 2010; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved $8.05 million, compared with $1.6 million two years ago.

I wonder if the Supreme Court or Congress will ever consider letting elections get back to being about issues and platforms – instead of advertising budgets?

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