In California we have enjoyed a top two open primary system since 2010. We have had a couple of election cycles to kick the tires and while there was plenty of consternation about a new system nothing earth shaking has come to pass. The effects while subtle build the potential for long lasting and positive effect.
The old partisan system rested as much power as possible in as few hands as possible while giving an illusion of real democracy. In reality very few people controlled the money and the access to resources needed to run. Partisan power brokers could tell potential upstart candidates that if they ran they would never get financing or support from traditional sources ever. Someone that ran as an outsider had to have enough money of their own to at least kick off the campaign and see if they could attract nontraditional cash. To upset a system controlled by a very few one had to be part of an even smaller group, the very rich. Toss-up districts were almost non-existent and upset races even more rare. Since the outcomes were predictable the monetary flow was also predicable. It was what one might see as great for the business of politics. It was however a nightmare for governance.
During the 2012 primary here in the First Assembly district we had two Republicans and one Democrat to choose from. As an Independent I had my choice from all three as did anyone else without regard to their party of registration. I didn’t make my choice based on ideology but on a combination of electability and things that I read from good source about one candidate that caused me some concern. I tend strongly toward the conservative but being more interested in problem solving not much of an ideologue. After the election I found that my friends that strongly lean to the left made the same decision and for the exact same reasons. As a district we found a candidate that we felt would represent most of the districts constituents. That is Top Two’s strength: the system has a bias toward consensus as opposed to partisanship.
A battle between someone that is sure to win and someone that is sure to lose isn’t an election, it is a rigged system and that is what our old partisan system was. Between gerrymandering and the partisan primary for most of our districts it was almost a waste of money to go through the election exercise. It is no wonder that California has had a declining turnout for a very long time. Those that say recent low turnouts were due to the top two are conveniently ignoring that it is just another step in a long trend of declining turnout going back much further than our new chance of primary system.
Minor parties are doing as well as they ever have. The Top Two Primary only restricts them from losing two elections instead of just one. They have as much winning as anyone. The candidate that wins just has to prove that they will represent more voters than just one other and they move on to November. It is a very simple test.
One should not worry that Measure 90 will make Oregon more like California. Measure 90 passing should make Oregon more like Oregon because more of Oregon’s citizens can participate in the process. Based on how things went where I live, I can with confidence recommend that my friends in Oregon vote yes on Measure 90.