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Incumbents, party picks still have edge despite reforms, study says

September 13, 2012 |  8:32 am


Changes in California’s election laws resulted in more open seats and competitive races for state and federal legislative contests in this year’s primary, according to a study by the Public Policy Institute of California. 

But all incumbents and the vast majority of non-incumbent candidates endorsed by their political parties advanced to the general election, an indication that things have not changed that much, according to the study by the nonpartisan research group. 

"The primary results were broadly in line with what might have been expected under the old system," says Eric McGhee, a policy fellow for the institute and co-author of the report. "So far, the first step on the road of electoral reform has been a small one. Time will tell whether the reforms will produce bigger changes."

The study looked at the effects of two changes to California’s electoral process: a citizens panel rather than legislators drew the district boundaries for this year’s legislative elections, and the top-two vote-getters in the primary advanced to the fall general election regardless of party affiliation. 

Every incumbent on the ballot advanced to the November election and 101 of 113 non-incumbent candidates endorsed by a major party also made the cut, according to the study, co-written by policy associate Daniel Krimm.  

Among other trends noted, with districts no longer gerrymandered by lawmakers, some incumbents no longer felt comfortable standing for reelection. Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) is among the incumbents who looked at the changed political makeup of their new district and decided not to seek re-election.

The adoption of the top-two primary resulted in 28 races in November in which both candidates are from the same party, while minor parties are nearly absent from the ballot, the institute said.


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-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: A precinct worker sets up an extra polling booth at the Venice Beach lifeguard headquarters in November 2010. Results from this year's primary, with reforms in place, weren't much different from what the old system produced, said the co-author of a new report. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times