Rose Fellow Douglas Johnson on Election Reform Propositions

A November 22nd article in the Orange County Register quoted Rose Institute Fellow Douglas Johnson discussing the recent election reforms approved by California voter. Titled “Redistricting, open primary to change state elections,” the article focuses on the three major election reform propositions that have passed over the last two years. Proposition 11 in 2008 gave the responsibility of drawing legislative districts to an independent commission instead of the state legislators themselves. June’s Proposition 14 eliminated party primaries for non-presidential elections and instead send the two top finishers to a run-off, regardless of party affiliation. And November’s Proposition 20 gives the same independent commission the right to draw congressional districts as well.

According to Johnson, “approving those propositions is a way of voters expressing their disappointment with the Legislature.” Johnson explains that, “legislators typically draw district lines to make district safe for one party or the other. In the 1990s, with court-drawn districts, 23 state legislative districts changed parties at least once…In the 2000s, after legislators redrew the line, just four have changed hands. With safe districts, the winner is typically chosen in the primary by voters from the dominant party.”

He does believe, however, that “San Francisco will remain very Democratic and south Orange County will remain very Republican…But the top-two primary will change the texture of those elections so the winner won’t simply be whoever can appeal to the more extreme wing of the predominant party.” He also thinks that the new primary system will make it easier for unhappy voters to vote out “unresponsive incumbents.” While some have warned against expecting too much from the election reform propositions, “Sacramento is essentially paralyzed by party leaders and special interests, who’ve been drawing the district lines…This sets the stage for better government. It puts more power in the hands of voters.”

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