Forum: Calif’s Top Two Primary System

California will test its top-two primary system, or open primary, for the first time in a statewide election this June. How does a top-two system work? Basically, everyone votes for one candidate from among all of the contenders, no matter what party, and the top two vote-getters move on to the Nov. ballot.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Wyatt Buchanan summarizes it nicely:
Elections officials liken it to an Olympic race in which the first heat determines who competes in the final, and the competitors in the final could be from the same country. That means some November races could be between candidates of the same party.

KQED’s Forum examined the issue Monday. The three guests all had very different takes on the method. Here’s an excerpt from each guest:

The bottom line is that open primary means competition. Competition means a healthier system. Hopefully, ultimately, both major political parties as well as the smaller parties will respond to that competition and we will see an environment in which the political parties themselves become healthier, stronger, more intellectually relevant and reconnect with a society that candidly has walked away from the party system.

  • Jon Fleischman, GOP strategist and publisher of, a website on California politics:

What I’m seeing at the practical application is because of the expense of the system, people are more beholden to the special interests than they are to the political party… This measure peels back the influence of political parties — who steps into the vacuum? Our labor unions, big corporations with all of the money … now the only monied interest out there to help people are people who want something out of of government.

  •  Laura Wells, 2010 Green Party candidate for Governor of California
So the possibility is, because anybody can vote for anybody in June, that if everybody voted for their values in June, and basically Green Party values are California values — social justice, the environment, grass roots Democracy, nonviolence — then there’s a possibility that Greens could be in one of the top-two spots and then people would have a real choice in Nov. not just one corporate-funded party as opposed to the other corporate-funded party. Not just one rich, incumbent candidate running against one equally rich and well-funded candidate.

If your curiosity is piqued, listen to the entire show but note that the first five minutes are devoted to breaking news about the California budget.