Now that California has had its first Congressional race (in the 36th district) using the state’s new “top two primary” system, it is a good time to point out one of the major flaws with it is the incredibly long period between the primary and the general. The “primary” took place yesterday but the “general” isn’t until July 12, two months away. In a non-special election there will be five months between the top two primary and the general.
The thing about California’s new “top two primary,” where the two candidates that get the most votes regardless of party move on to the general, is it isn’t really a primary at all. Primaries are meant to be an election where a party’s members choose their nominee. America normally has a long time between primary elections and general elections. The logic behind this is that the campaign a candidate runs to win a party’s primary is much smaller and more narrowly focused on just the core members of their own party, so a candidate needs a lot time after that to switch to a much larger campaign focused on the whole electorate.
California now has a two-round election with a runoff.
What the top-two primary really does is basically eliminates any party nomination process in California. It also switches the state to a two-round runoff election system, like the French Presidential elections. But unlike France, which allows only two weeks between the first round and the runoff, in California, there will be months between the two rounds.
The supposed logic behind the switch to the top-two primary was to get all candidates to run their campaigns, from the start, directed at everyone in the district across the political spectrum, instead of first catering to the small group of primary voters in each party. So, the candidates are basically already running what we would consider big, expensive, general-election-style campaigns for the “primary,” and they will need to sustain this big, general-election-style campaign for the months until the runoff election.
Having the “top two primary” so many months before the general election just makes our painfully long campaign seasons even longer and political campaigns much more expensive. The two rounds should be held only weeks apart to make elections cheaper and reduce the never-ending campaign phenomenon.