Elections Central: Bipartisan Disregard

It is no secret that voter turnout in our country is embarrassingly low. Midterm elections see the fewest amount of the population at the voting booths; with just 36.4% of eligible voters turning out in the 2014 election (the lowest turnout in over 70 years). Although presidential election years lead to bigger voting turnouts, U.S. citizens consistently disregard their state and local elections. Many governor, mayor and senator hopefuls will have their names on the November 8th ballot, but it is difficult for candidates to stand out from one another during a time that big names such as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are running for president. These local elections, and their candidates, just don’t gain the same notoriety. Voters are more likely to vote for their party than a specific candidate. It’s easier to show allegiance to a color (red vs. blue) or a mascot (elephant vs. donkey) than an actual person. Voting for the latter requires research that, on average, the U.S. populace is not willing to do. Having the mindset of “well I’m Republican, so I guess I’ll vote for the candidate with the ‘R’ by their name” is quite common. This strategy works in most cases, but in states with a blanket primary, voters are faced with multiple candidates donning their party’s title.

Blanket primaries, or the Louisiana Primary (as it is commonly known) is an election that eliminates the bipartisan voting procedure and just has the candidates run against one another on the same ballot. Each candidate still represents their respective party, but this primary doesn’t force the public to select a democrat or republican to vote for in the general election. Originating in the state of Washington, this seemingly unorthodox concept has gained quite some popularity with major states; one of which being California. The Golden State adopted this form of election in 1996 through Proposition 198. The vote to enact this new system won with nearly 60% approval. Soon after this blanket primary was enacted it was found unconstitutional. In the Supreme Court Case of the California Democratic Party v. Jones the argument that eradicated this new primary was one that stated the lack of affiliation infringed on first amendment rights. The late Justice Scalia delivered the decision, stating “We may observe that even if all these state interests were compelling ones, Proposition 198 is not a narrowly tailored means of furthering them…under such a system, the State determines what qualifications it requires for a candidate to have a place on the primary ballot…Each voter, regardless of party affiliation, may then vote for any candidate, and the top two vote-getters…then move on to the general election. This system has all the characteristics of the partisan blanket primary, save the constitutionally crucial one: Primary voters are not choosing a party’s nominee”. In short, a government can not prevent voters from voting for their preferred party, and some view this system as doing just that. The old system was discarded of, and in 2011, the state adopted the top-two open primary. This primary is similar to the previous one, except for the end result. The top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, are the only ones put on the general election ballot. The LA Times described it as having “the nominees from all political parties, including multiple candidates from the same party, compete against each other in a single primary free-for-all. Only the top two finishers overall advance to the November election. Those two final candidates could be from the same political party”. Depending on the majority of a given state, this system can strongly disadvantage the minority party.

This is what we are currently seeing in California with their senate election. The California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez will face each other in the general election for U.S. Senator. Both democrats, these two women took the top two positions in the primary election and now the new senate seat is guaranteed to go to a democrat. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since the incumbent senator is a democrat, and has held her position since 1992. Although Sen. Barbara Boxer isn’t seeking a 5th term, her democratic precedent was sure to stand strong. Since both candidates are democrats, it is imperative to research their personal stands and voting records to make the best decision. This election will pit democrat against democrat which may possibly lead to “exposing the party’s ideological rifts on the big stage”. This election will most definitely come down to different ideologies. Representative Sanchez was quoted saying that nearly 20% of the world’s Muslim population was willing to use terrorism to achieve their goals. Statements such as that will most likely push her away from liberal voters, and make her look more appealing to conservatives. According to John Pitney, a Claremont McKenna College professor, “she came under criticism for saying a large percentage of the Muslim world supported jihad… And a lot of people who are going to vote for Trump in November will look for a tiebreaker between her and Harris and that will be it”. Harris was clearly the preferred democratic candidate in the general election, receiving 40% of the votes, while Sanchez only received 18%. It is very likely that on November 8th, republicans will find their selves voting for Sanchez. This will definitely give her a better chance of upsetting Harris. Regardless of your opinion of this top-two system, there is no debate that it creates some very unique alliances.