California's Unusual Primary System

By Ben Adler,
National Public Radio, Weekend Edition Sunday,
June 3, 2018


California's nontraditional nonpartisan primary system could negatively affect Democrats running for the House and Republicans running in the state's races for governor and senator.


Tuesday's primary election in California has political watchers riveted not just because of what's on the ballot but also because of the state's unusual primary system - the jungle primary. As Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler reports from Sacramento, the state is split on whether or not it's working.

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: It's called the jungle primary for a reason. Republicans are at risk of being shut out of California's races for governor and U.S. Senate on Tuesday, and Democrats could face the same fate in several congressional races seen as crucial to retaking the House all because voters approved Proposition 14 back in 2010.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: It will give power back to the people.

ADLER: That was then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger taking a victory lap on the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento the day after the measure passed. It created a system similar to what's used in Louisiana, Washington and Nebraska. Every voter gets the same primary ballot with all the candidates on it. And the top two finishers in each race, regardless of political party, move on to the general election.


ADLER: Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation points out the state has churned through a lot of other primary systems.

KIM ALEXANDER: And, you know, what I really wish is that we would just stick with something for a while and let voters get used to it.

ADLER: Polls suggest voters like the top-two system as it enters its fourth election cycle with Tuesday's primaries, even though Alexander says they may still be figuring it out. For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler in Sacramento. (full story and audio)