by Richard Winger, Ballot Access News
A top-two system means that all candidates for Congress and state office run on the same ballot in the primary. Then, only the two candidates who came in first or second can run in November.
There have been 119 instances when a member of a party other than the Republican and Democratic Parties ran for federal or state office in a top-two system, and in which there were at least two major party members running. In all 119 instances, the minor party candidate did not place first or second and thus could not run in the general election.
The Louisiana variant isn’t bad, because Louisiana abolished the primary and just has a general election in November. But the California and Washington systems result in general election ballots with just Republicans and Democrats on the ballot, except in the rare cases when only one major party members filed, so the minor party candidate can’t fail to place second.
Experience teaches that voters won’t pay attention to candidates from parties other than the Democratic and Republican Parties until after the voters know who the two big parties nominated. And in a top-two system, by then, it is too late for the Constitution Party member to get on the ballot.
Big business interests like top-two and have funded it lavishly in initiative campaigns, especially in Oregon last year. Michael Bloomberg contributed $2,000,000 to the top-two initiative, as did John Arnold, a Houston billionaire. But top-two still lost in Oregon 2-1. It also lost in Oregon in 2008, also by 2-1. It lost in Arizona in 2012 by 2-1. But it won in California in June 2010, and in Washington in November 2004. The reason it passed in California was that for years, the legislature had taken months past the deadline to pass a state budget. That was because the budget had to pass by two-thirds in each house of the legislature, and Republicans, although in the minority, always blocked the budget. The voters were sick of gridlock and thought top-two would fix the problem.
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Richard Winger is founder of Ballot Access News, the authoritative resource for independent and third party candidates, and those concerned with a free and fair elections.