Californians Will Get Their Choice Between Coke, Diet Coke for the Senate

Top-two primary system guarantees a Democratic replacement for Sen. Barbara Boxer.


Harris, Sanchez
A.G. Office Photo/Congressional Photo

Hey Californians, here are your options to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate come the fall: You can vote for a Democratic progressive liberal currently serving as the state's attorney general, Kamala Harris; or you can vote for a Democratic progressive liberal 10-term member of the House of Representatives, Rep. Loretta Sanchez.

Those are your choices. Wondering where a Republican or third-party option might be? You're not getting one.

You can thank California's relatively recent implementation of a top-two primary system. For statewide and congressional elections primary voters can select from all-comers: Democrats, Republicans, and even third-party candidates. The two candidates who get the most votes face off on the November ballot, regardless of party affiliation. Everybody else is shut out. Fundamentally, this means that the primary vote is really the election for these seats, and the November vote is a run-off.

Republican alternatives didn't even crack the 10 percent threshold. Mind you, California's Republican Party participation has dropped much more than Democratic Participation. For registered voters, 43.1 percent are Democrats and just 27.6 percent are Republican. A full 24 percent have no party preference (this number has steadily been increasing since 1999). It is very likely that whoever landed the Democratic nomination was going to have a huge advantage in the November election.

But it's also worth reminding that the Republican presidential nomination was already decided, and there was much less reason for Republicans (or independents) to participate in the primaries unless they understood that it was yesterday's vote that determined whether a Senate candidate that represented their views appeared on the November ballot at all.

The top two primary process has its defenders over the basis that it can make races where one party is so thoroughly dominant of the district more competitive by requiring appeals to all voters rather than just party members. But these defenses completely ignore the reality that primary vote turnout is so much lower than general election turnout. This chart over at the L.A. Times shows how primary election turnout in the state remains low in the years since this system has been implemented and compares it to the general election. The June 2014 primaries had the state's lowest turnout at 25.2 percent. This is not a system that "opens up" elections.

And there are some other issues when this system is applied to a statewide race as opposed to a single Congressional district. A statewide race necessarily requires a huge investment in time and money. And this process requires that investment during the early primary process. It makes it even more important to have a network of donors and supporters earlier in the process in order to compete. Is it any wonder that the only two candidates to crack double digits were the state's very well-known attorney general and a very connected 10-term member of Congress? Who else would be able to raise the money to spend statewide during the primaries?

But there's implications beyond California's borders, too. This is a statewide race for a seat in the United States Senate, which is responsible for lawmaking that represents all Americans. It's removing a seat from play for party control over a federal lawmaking body. It inherently makes it easier for one party to take or keep control over a legislative body and therefore impacts the amount of influence and say those who are not liberal Democrats may have over laws that affect them everywhere, not just in the Golden State.

Even without a top two primary system, it's unlikely a Republican would be in a position to get elected to represent California in the U.S. Senate, but that's not the point. That the primary system is being used to shut minority parties out of the race for control of federal lawmaking powers is not good for the republic. It pushes the costs to run for state office earlier into the cycle, which benefits those with connections. And it deliberately puts the most important choices into the elections that have the lowest voter turnout.

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  1. One-party rule = AWESOMENESS

    1. And they say:
      Would not. Would not. Sorry dude, you struck out AGAIN.

  2. Just like it was for my relatives who were trapped in East Germany. You have a choice between Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Communist) candidate A and Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Communist) candidate B.

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  4. Yes, because with the Republican candidates unable to get even 10 percent of the vote, clearly the top-two rule is the only thing standing in their way.

    1. Still, it’s nice to have the option of throwing your vote away.

    2. Completely ignoring the fact that the presidential primary was over for the Stupids and still in play for the Evils?

      51% of 25% of voters choosing a position with national implications is no way to run a country, son.

      1. It’s not like the top two rule is either a surprise or even new. If the republican voters don’t care enough about the senate race to show up and vote, is it really the top two rule’s fault?

        1. Yeah, apparently even splitting the Democratic vote between two people the Republicans couldn’t clench this??

          1. The Republican vote was even more split.

        2. I believe that a top-two rule merely clinches– or further solidifies what’s already the trend.

          No, the top two rule isn’t causing Republicans to lose, but it may very well be causing it to not crack 10%.

          When you have a top two rule, the minor party starts to not even show up.

          1. It doesn’t even have to be a minor party. It can just be a divided party. What this really reinforces is conformity; if the Republicans were competitive in California then they would still have to agree on a candidate before voting in the primary or else risk losing their seat anyway.

            To illustrate how farcical this system is, note that about 70% of the vote went to Democrats and 30% to Republicans. If the Democrat vote had been split evenly five ways (14% each) but the Republican vote only split in two (15% each), then there could have been two Republicans advancing to the general election even though the majority of voters (in the primary, at least) were Democrats.

            1. What’s farcical about that? If the parties themselves can’t exert that kind of discipline, should it be imposed by the election law? I think the election law already does too much to prop up the parties; top-2 is at least a move toward officially non-partisan elections.

              1. I think the election law already does too much to prop up the parties; top-2 is at least a move toward officially non-partisan elections.

                That’s how the “reform” was sold to voters, but it actually has the exact opposite effect – it narrows the bottleneck so that only the two dominant parties are represented in the general election and sometimes, as we see here, just one of the two dominant parties is represented.

                This law is a big part of that “too much” that election law does to prop up the parties. There hasn’t been an L on the ticket in a CA election since this law passed.

                1. The trouble is that you’re still thinking of the runoff as “the general election”. If you just shifted your perspective to consider the “primary” as the general election, then you’d see it differently. My understanding was the ballot access for this “primary” was also significantly easier for most offices than had previously been the case for minor-party candidates.

                  What if they changed the terminology & called the primary the election, and the general election the runoff, and removed the party labels? Then you’d have a totally nonpartisan election, eliminating the ballot advantage of the big parties, or should I say the big party in this case? Well, you’re about 75% of the way there with top-2. In fact, if for whatever reason voters still don’t want to pay att’n much to the primary, small organiz’ns like the LP have a relative advantage in that you can get proportionally greater participation.

                2. ^^This!^^

              2. Does the election exist to find a representative of the voters, or do the voters exist to find people to fill a vacant office?

                1. The election of senators exists to keep California in the Union, so we can pay everyone else’s bills.

        3. If the republican voters don’t care enough about the senate race to show up and vote, is it really the top two rule’s fault?

          If as many Republicans as Democrats showed up on polling day and the vote share among Republicans remained the same, then the outcome would still have been two Democrats. In this case, the vote was too dilute on the Republican side to overcome the unity on the Democrat side, even if turnout was equal.

          If your goal is to make elections even more farcical than before, I must say this quite a way to go.

        4. Exactly. It’s not the election law’s fault that the turnout is so low, or that the Republicans’ turnout in particular is. Or when you need to do your fundraising; why can’t campaigns adapt to the calendar?

          1. It’s not the election law’s fault that the turnout is so low

            How do you know this? Election law is a matter of public record; are we supposed to believe that people won’t base their decisions on it? If the change to the election law has no effect on the outcome, then why support it?

            1. What do you want to do, keep changing the methods until you get the outcome you want?

              Consider jurisdictions where 1 party has overwhelming dominance, and that has the usual system of closed primary & gen’l election. Then the election is decided by that closed primary. This is the situation in NYC, where the only chance to get a candidate backed by another party elected is for that other party to cross-endorse a candidate who wins the Democratic primary. So the other parties mostly cross-endorse nominal Democrats, or even regular Democrats.

              At least with top-2 the meaningful choice in such a case is deferred and is open to the participation of all the voters. You say voters don’t pay att’n to the “primary” even with top-2? Then all the more reason to have top-2, because it gives more of the voters a chance to decide which nominal Democrat is elected. If the dominance by that party becomes great enough, then fine, everybody who wants to participate in politics, just enroll as a Democrat, and then the election is effectively non-partisan, because “Democrat” then just means “voter” or “candidate”. It usually doesn’t get to that extreme, but that’s your safety valve if it ever does.

      2. There’s also the matter of this being a new system (the proposition was only voted on in 2010 and going into effect in 2011). In 2012, one of the top two candidates was a Republican, since Dianne Feinstein was effectively unopposed on the Democratic ticket. Ergo, it’s easy to guess that many Republicans simply didn’t realize that a system in play since the 17th Amendment had changed, given the complete focus on the Democratic Presidential Primary in the news cycle and that previous example (post-passage of Proposition 14) of having a seemingly-normal choice of two parties for the Senate in November 2012. I’m not certain what effort was done to educate/remind voters of what would result from the open primary (and if any such effort was confined to back pages of newspapers), but having the first real test case of this six years after the proposition ??when the electoral news for the main primary was tilted so in favor of the “favored party” poll-wise didn’t do CA Republican voters any favors.

    3. My feelings too. It sucks either way because it’s still majority rule over rights and minorities, but it at least allows a practical choice as opposed to a theoretical one.

      In a lopsided state like California, it at least allows for the possibility that the two left wingers might actually have some differences, and let the lesser evil actually have a chance. With one Dem and one GOP, the GOP would never win, so the Dems have no interest in going for the not-quite-hard-left.

      1. That’s what primaries are for.

        1. But primaries are usually open only to members of that party.

    4. The top-two rule is one consequence of many stemming from the Republicans’ gradual-then-sudden loss of support in Calif.

      It is certainly designed to lock out a future Republican comeback and secure one-party rule in Calif., so it is one of the first things that must fall before they can take back 50% of the electorate.

      1. I don’t see how it helps secure 1-party rule. Even if 1 party becomes dominant, the lack of a partisan primary means candidates from wherever can use their party label, and then even if it’s a single party in name, it effectively becomes a non-partisan election.

        1. Why is it even desirable to have a “non-partisan election” in the first place? Political organization is an expression of human nature.

          1. Because why should the ballot inform the voter which party a candidate is endorsed by, or even belongs to? That info helps the more powerful & popular parties.

            I know from experience that absence of labeling helps minority interests. Best of all would be if voting were completely blind, with no communication allowed by or about candidates at all. Actually that’s 2nd best; really best would be no voting, but sortation, i.e. lottery.

            1. Spell check thinks sortition is not a word.

        2. if it’s a single party in name, it effectively becomes a non-partisan election.

          I predict that parties will start having “pre-primaries” so that they can make sure to come into the “non-partisan primaries” unified behind a party-approved candidate.

          1. I predict that parties will start having “pre-primaries” so that they can make sure to come into the “non-partisan primaries” unified behind a party-approved candidate.

            It’s probably already there, although not fully formalized yet.

            I suppose you could say the Republicans didn’t unite behind a single candidate in this primary because they knew they wouldn’t be competitive in the general election.

            So this is really just a bizarre runoff-like system, where the second election is mandatory, and the delay between the two elections is unusually long.

            Still, one remains left with the question of “why would anyone do this?”

          2. They should! But not using tax-funded resources. And they still won’t (& shouldn’t) have the election law behind them to keep uncooperative insurgents off the ballot.

    5. All of the Republicans combined netted about 30%. That by itself is not enough to win in November but the party is a bit more competitive than “not even 10%”.

  5. Didn’t want to call either of them “Coke Zero”?

  6. I’m assuming that Sanchez probably would have gone Green Nazi as Harris did in going after “the climate deniers,” but the fact is that Harris actually did it, so she deserves to lose just for abusing her authority and being a corrupt fascist.

    1. They both suck, but Harris sucks an order of magnitude more. Sanchez is a bona fide CA far-left liberal in the mold of Barbara Lee. Harris is a machine insider with no scruples whatsoever.

      1. Hillary Jr.

        1. Precisely.

      2. Always a lovely choice when the extreme leftist is the better option.

        ……and that’s why I got the hell out of California a long time ago.

    2. No one is denying that climate exists.

      1. What about all of the “we live in a simulation” crowd? What the Left calls Climate is just a bunch of algorithms at best, if not merely background holography.

  7. Bet on the fugly one on the right, because the one on the left is looks just a little too good looking, and there’s nothing an American woman fears and despises more than a more attractive woman.

    1. Harris is a shoe-in. She was chosen the moment Boxer announced she was retiring. What follows is simply the coronation following the gesture of a public election.

  8. Californians Will Get Their Choice Between Coke, Diet Coke for the Senate


    1. Coke is the choice of Capitalists everywhere – its Pepsi that Socialists drink.

    2. Coke and Diet Coke are nothing alike. Not one single thing. The former is the sweet, sweet nectar of the Gods that fuels all that is good and just while the other is Satan’s bloody piss.

    3. The normal metaphor (?) is between Coke and Pepsi – which, despite Pepsi being horribly inferior to Coke is still far preferable to Diet Coke – not between Coke and Diet Coke.

    1. Oh, and

      4. Even though I normally eschew commenting on a politician’s appearance (preferring to focus on their *deed*) – would. Either. Both.

      1. I’ll pass and will not comment on your taste.

    2. The first time I tasted Diet Coke I honestly thought it had “turned”.

    3. No way, man, IPAs rule.

    4. I’d go with Dr. Pepper. And not the abomination diet version.

  9. That the primary system is being used to shut minority parties out of the race for control of federal lawmaking powers is not good for the republic.

    And yet the system results in a black woman and an hispanic woman looking to replace a white woman and you whine because the White Man isn’t wielding his usual privilege – admit it, Scott, you’re such a racist misogynist that I’ll bet you’d refuse to have sex with either one of these women, wouldn’t you?

    1. *golf clap*

    2. My Facederp “friends” are already talking about this strictly in terms of identity categories. That’s what matters, not what either of them would do.

    3. Which one’s black? They both look pretty white to me.

      1. I believe the old-fashioned term for someone like Kamala was “high yellow.”

  10. Scott, you’re such a racist misogynist that I’ll bet you’d refuse to have sex with either one of these women, wouldn’t you?


  11. One shitty thing I didn’t understand was why there were propositions allowed on the ballot- jeez, you’ve got another vote just months away with guaranteed *much* higher turnout. All the state and local props should be pushed to the November ballot in a national election year.

    1. with guaranteed *much* higher turnout

      I think you just answered your own question . . .

    2. They are, except the legislature can force their proposals to the primary ballot.

      Or something like that. It’s new this year.

  12. If this primary race was anything like the ones in Maryland, it boiled down to each side saying “my opponent does not hate corporations and guns nearly as much as I do”.

    1. California, circa 1940-1970, where have you gone?

        1. If you and your wife were both offered 2x your salary plus a million dollar house, would you guys move to California? The deal is that you would have to remain there for the rest of your lives.

          1. A million dollars won’t get you bloody much in CA – you need to sweeten that offer.

            1. You’re right – the offer does need to be sweetened.

    2. “my opponent does not hate corporations and guns nearly as much as I do”.

      So you’ve seen a Seattle election?

    1. Sanchez is the clear choice. At least the woman likes her pets. Harris in contrast likely eats kittens. Harris is one of the most thoroughly evil people in politics.

    2. And if you are partial to MILFs, and really who isn’t, a Sanchez win makes up a little bit for MILF Renee Ellmers getting canned by her district last night.

  13. Repeal the 17th amendment.

    …and the 16th while you’re at it.

    1. Popular election of senators was a terrible idea. It just made the Senate into a special interest cesspool.

      1. What other choice do we have? Making US Senate seats appointed positions would rocket them into special interest control–powerful interests would buy the appointers.

        1. Try reading the Federalist Papers (& the Anti-Federalist papers), along with the Constitution (sans amendments).

        2. Powerful interests buy them anyway, but state governments have an inherent interest in limiting the power of the federal government, so that if states appointed senators, they would make sure to appoint senators who protected states’ rights against the federal government, thereby providing a check on the growth of the federal government.

          Having both houses directly elected by citizens makes the Senate a tool for the populace to use to weaken their own state governments and strengthen the federal government under the guise of “populism.”

          For example, if not for the 17th amendment, we almost certainly wouldn’t have a federal Department of Education.

          1. As long as the 16th Amendment exists, states do not “have an inherent interest in limiting the power of the federal government”. In fact, they have almost the opposite: it behooves them to play nice with the Feds so they can bring money lost to income taxes back into the state.

            16+17 would have to be done away with together

            1. 16+17 would have to be done away with together

              Fair enough. A more apt way to put it might be that the intent was to use state governments’ self-interest as a check on federal power, a check that has been weakened to the point of near non-existence over the years.

          2. But the states were already adopting popular election of US senators anyway. It would’ve soon been the practice universally, or nearly so, even w/o the 17th Amendment. Just as states popularly elect presidential electors.

            1. Without the amendment, a single state would still be free to chose its Senators differently. It may have been the trend, but now no one can buck it on their own.

              1. The Smoking Ban of elections.

              2. But why would they, when they aren’t doing it for presidential electors? If the people of the state want to vote for their representation, do you think their existing rulers want to deny that to them?

      2. Few people even understand that the Senate was meant to be a representation of the states, not the “people” (that was the House). Now we have two bodies redundantly representing the people, edging closer to democracy (and I mean that pejoratively).

        1. That may be true, but the main problem is that most people seem to see democracy as a good in itself, therefore direct election of senators is also good.
          A lot of people do get that the senate was supposed to represent the states, but think that it was a mistake that was fixed for good reason.

        2. Thanks to popular election of senators you end up with things like Chris Dodd being Hollywood’s favorite senator even though he was from Connecticut.

        3. The Senate still has some representation of the states.

          At the state level, SCOTUS gutted not only indirect elections but also explicitly regional representation (starting with Baker v. Carr). So the majority of states have two houses of the legislature which are functionally indistinguishable in representation except for the number of members.

          It defeats the entire purpose of bicameralism to have two legislative bodies that are practically guaranteed to always agree with each other.

          1. Not the entire purpose. The “upper” house is elected less frequently, so is supposed to take the long term view and moderate the passions of the “lower” house, which has new hot-heads joining every 2 years.

    2. I’ve never bought into this idea that repealing the 17th Amendment would change the composition of the Senate in any meaningful way. I suspect that if the 17th Amendment had been repealed, 99 percent of the Senate would be exactly the same as it is now, and Dr. Rand Paul would still be practicing ophthalmology in Kentucky.

  14. I lean libertarian-right, but think California’s open primary is a better deal for the likes of me, given that California, like Mississippi, is a one-party State. At least one of the two candidates in the most important November election is likely to seek centrist and right-leaning votes. In contrast, under the old system, a more left-leaning Democrat would win the party primary and nobody would pay attention to the no-hope Republican candidate in November.

    1. Except in California, it’s a race to the left, not to the center.

      1. The old Democratic primary used to be a race to the left, but now the less scary of two candidates has a chance to win in November. California is a left- wing state whichever system you choose.

  15. CA can’t go left fast enough or far enough:

    California rest in peace

  16. Looks like the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Harris, like Trump, is totally bad; Sanchez, like Trump, might occasionally do something right (though probably less often in her case).

    1. Except I can still vote for Gary Johnson for President. I have no third option for Senator.

  17. A unified Democratic Party would have made it easier for republicans to qualify for November.

    It is a pretty narrow window where the democrats are strong enough to split the vote and box out the republicans, but they aren’t so dominant that you would WANT them to split the vote and square off against each other in November.

    I don’t have a problem with this outcome.

    Unless you think there was active collusion and one of these candidate will cede.

    1. Unless you think there was active collusion and one of these candidate will cede.

      I doubt that, but I won’t be surprised if Sanchez gets next-to-no funding and November comes around with big glossy pictures of Kamala all over the state and people saying “Loretta who?”

      1. “The recently renamed Loretta Latina, that’s who”

        Alliteration: It’s Necessary For Lorettas’ lastname’s.

  18. California’s “Top Two” rule is a travesty of the electoral process. It’s a not-so-veiled plan to keep third parties off the ballot. I stayed home in protest yesterday, since Trump had already clinched and there was nothing more I could do to stop him.

    1. But it was promoted by people who wanted to diminish the power of the dominant party or parties. 3rd parties are a means, not an end in themselves. But the trouble is that they, perhaps even more than the “professional” parties, tend to be treated by their leadership as ends in themselves. I certainly experienced that in LP.

      1. I agree with Robert. The open primary is bad for third parties, but good for independent voters, who will be taken seriously for the first time in the most important general election.

        I would, however, favor a “convention” system allowing parties to decide who gets to carry the party label next to their name on the ballot, especially for the first round open primary where opportunities for education and recruitment are best.

  19. I live in California, pay attention politically, and didn’t know anything about this until I was voting yesterday. Never saw a single ad or mailing or anything for a single candidate for senate. I read the ballot several times trying to figure out exactly what was going on as I couldn’t believe it said what it did.

    Anyway, not only does this screw republicans, it really REALLY screws 3rd parties. There must have been 20 names on the list – including 2 libertarians that I randomly chose between and combined they got maybe 1% of the vote.

    So, now, in November there won’t even be an option for any 3rd party candidate – and all of those 3rd parties didn’t even have presidential primaries yesterday so would have had to be SUPER involved to even know this was a thing.

    Example 6,384,293 of the progressive, statist shithole California is. Cannot WAIT to leave.

    1. The travesty that is Top Two was created by Proposition 14 in 2010. I could tell it would be a disaster when it was proposed, and it has been that disaster in every single election since.

      It is bad enough at reducing actual choice in the general election due to getting mushy tweedle-dee versus tweedle-dum runoffs. But as others have noted above, it pushes candidate selection back into smoke filled rooms as the parties must strategically run a limited slate so they either do or don’t split their electorate to get into or get both of the general election positions.

      And as you note it utterly disenfranchises third parties. There are no statewide Libertarians on the ballot in November, and the conversation that having a Libertarian on the ballot would bring from June to November has been silenced.

      Nonetheless, if you are a registered Libertarian, you do get a Libertarian ballot and can vote for president among filed Libertarians. As a federal election, the primary for president is not run under Top Two.

      By the way, the two Libertarian candidates for Senate got a total of 92,000 votes, 1.8%.

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