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Perhaps due to the focus on the global economic situation and the upcoming presidential election, California’s revamped electoral process seemingly received minimal attention, even within our state. Recent changes to this system are actually quite significant, and worth reviewing.
Propositions 11 and 20 – California Citizens Redistricting Commission
In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 11, which created the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (Commission). The Commission was charged with drawing lines for state legislative districts, as well as for Board of Equalization districts. In 2010, California voters also approved Proposition 20, which added the task of redrawing US congressional districts to the Commission. In an interesting display of politics, the 2010 ballot also included Proposition 27, which would have eliminated the Commission in its infancy, only two years after its creation. Had Propositions 20 and 27 both garnered majority support, then the proposition with the higher number of total votes would have prevailed to become law (Proposition 27 did not come close to securing a majority vote).
Prior to Proposition 11, district lines were drawn by the state legislators themselves, in a laughable conflict of interest that a kindergartner could point out. The (obvious) result was that districts were drawn to be “safe” for either of the two major political parties, and thus the primary elections were the true kingmakers (given that a district was effectively guaranteed for one party, that party’s primary election determined the eventual representative). The bottom-line result was that our state legislature was highly partisan and unable to reach compromise, given that the most extreme members of either party were typically elected into office.
The election on June 5th, 2012 was the first true test for this new system, and by most accounts, the process has improved greatly. As noted in this article, incumbents faced a more competitive environment than in the past, and in two congressional districts, incumbents were forced to face each other. There was also the highest number of open congressional seats (9), since 1992.
Proposition 14 – Top Two Primary System
Another important change came in the form of Proposition 14, also approved by voters in 2010. This proposition mandated that, instead of the prior closed primary system (in which only party registrants could vote to select their candidate for the general election), California would adopt a “top two” system, in which all registered voters chose which two candidates (regardless of party affiliation) would run in the general election. The goal of Proposition 14 was to reduce the stranglehold that the two major parties have, and to allow all voters a voice in which candidates survive to the general election.
The result will not be evident until the general election in November, 2012, and some commentators are pessimistic about its impact. However, while the system may never be “perfect,” it is hard not to be excited (or at least curious) about the combined impact these two procedural changes will have on our system of governance. Perhaps Californians will again have faith in their representatives, and just perhaps we will be able to address some of the serious issues our state faces.