Changes To California’s Election System Produced More Competitive Races, Record Turnover

SACRAMENTO (KCBS) – For the first time, California had an open primary system in which the top two candidates, regardless of party, advanced to November. And they ran in districts drawn by a nonpartisan commission instead of by lawmakers protecting their own safe seats.

The result was 38 new Assembly members, 9 new state Senators and 14 new members of Congress.

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

“It really did shake up the status quo,” said Eric McGhee, a policy fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, because the new legislative districts were not designed to protect incumbents.

“The old plan was so ridiculously uncompetitive that as the state became more Democratic over the last 10 years, that gain in Democratic voters didn’t translate into more seats. There were no seats for Democrats to win.”

Democrats gained four seats in the House, and appear to have secured two-thirds majorities in both the state Senate and the Assembly. Republicans could also benefit from the newly competitive seats in the years to come, McGhee said.

He cautioned that growing Democratic power in the state legislature probably had less to do with redistricting and more to do with the party’s mobilization efforts.

“They did this on their own through really an amazing turnout, it appears, of Democratic voters,” McGhee said.

McGhee said it would take more time to see whether the other intended impact of the reform, electing more moderate lawmakers, would come to pass.

“If your goal is to create more competition, certainly there has been more competition so far.”

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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