The Golden State will be the first to experiment with two major electoral reforms — the "Top Two" primary and the citizen-drawn congressional and state legislative districts. This matters because California's congressional delegation, at 51 members, is the largest in the nation — and the majority of seats are up for grabs in November.
Here's a breakdown of what these reforms are all about, and how they'll directly influence the outcome of the general election in November:
"Top Two" Primary Will Neutralize Extremism: Under this reform, the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election regardless of partisan affiliation. Previously, California had an open primary, which allowed anyone to vote for Democratic candidates, and a closed primary for Republican candidates, which allowed only registered Republicans to vote for Republican candidates.
In theory, the Top Two reform encourages more moderate candidates in that the two highest vote-getters must appeal to all voters. In reality, the result depends on how competitive the district is. California is an "either-or" state — districts are either Democrat or Republican, with almost two-thirds of districts being Democrat.
Where Top Two is really maximized is with citizen-drawn districts: a district that may be overwhelming Democrat but has a wide spectrum of conservative and liberal Democrats. This encourages the district to vote for two moderates from the same party in the November contest. The eventual representative of that district will be going to Washington accountable to moderate voters, not extremists.
Citizen Districting Eliminates Gerrymandering: Citizen districts are another reform passed by ballot initiative in which California citizens are responsible for drawing district maps. Before the initiative's passage in 2008 and the passage of the followup initiative in 2010, California suffered from debilitating gerrymandering. Voters in the Central Valley (a conservative enclave) would share representatives from the Bay Area (a liberal bastion), and district maps would comically snake and carve through the state.
The citizen commission published maps last year that reveal a new emphasis on keeping cities and regions together — a major step forward in making elections more competitive and community-oriented. Coupled with the Top Two primary, this will not only produce more moderate representatives in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, but also increase voter turnout and participation, since now voters will see their representatives closer to their community interests.
Tomorrow, I'll cover the outcome of today's primaries, handicapping November's election for California's coveted Congressional delegation.