Little and no choice in many Californian legislative races

By Don Thompson,
Associated Press,
February 3, 2020


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Millions of Californians have little or no choice when it comes to choosing a state legislator.

In 24 of the 100 districts on the ballot, only candidates from one party are running. And in 15 of those districts, the incumbent lawmaker is unopposed and all but assured of re-election.

In most of these districts the only party on the ballot is Democratic as the struggling Republican Party failed to even field a candidate. That leaves nearly 14½ million of California’s roughly 40 million people with no choice between major political parties in picking their state representative.

That’s good for the dominant political party and entrenched politicians, but bad for voters, said Mindy Romero, founder and director of the University of Southern California’s California Civic Engagement Project.

“Lack of choice is never a good thing,” she said.

Just one candidate is running in the March 3 primary election for 15 of the 100 seats on the ballot.

“It’s like you’ve won. There is no other candidate on the ballot,” said Alex Vassar, the California State Library's legislative historian.

Early voting started Monday, but the window is open until Feb. 18 for write-in candidates to file with state elections officials. Several incumbents are likely to pick up long-shot challengers who could qualify for the November ballot just by writing in their own names.


Kim Alexander, founder and president of the California Voter Foundation, said there are fewer open seats this election cycle than 10 years ago, before voters extended term limits. But more than four times as many incumbents now face challenges from within their own party after California switched to sending the top two primary election vote-getters to the general election regardless of party affiliation, she found after compiling comparison numbers for the AP.

“From the voters’ perspective, competition is a good thing,” Alexander said. “We are seeing more incumbents going uncontested, but we’re also seeing more incumbents being contested by people from their own party than we did 10 years ago.” (full story)