Election Results Leave Many Puzzled
by Brian Leubitz
Yesterday was the election, but I’m not going to give you the typical wrap up of last night’s election. There are many good places for that, the LA Times, the SF Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, all the usual suspects. I also highly recommend Josh Richman’s Political Blotter. But today, I’m on a bit of a mission/rant, one that I started last night on twitter. And it really can’t be fully fleshed out in 140 character chunks.
This is our first real statewide primary with the so-called “jungle primary” aka Top 2. We saw same strange outcomes in 2012 with legislative and Congressional races, but those could be shrugged off as local anomalies. The 31st Congressional District is usually cited as the worst case scenario, with Pete Aguilar, the top Democratic vote getter falling two points short of making the top 2. But in that race, Democrats only received 48.5% of the vote. Not having a Democrat was a bit silly, and could have been avoided (with a back room deal). However, the general election would still have been a tough race.
But take a look at the following scenario: Democrats split 48.4% of the vote, with a left-leaning third party candidate getting another 5.7%. In this scenario, Republicans garner only 46%. However, two Republicans move on to the general election.
Supporters of Top 2 often claim that June shouldn’t be determinative. It is a low-turnout election, so the two most popular candidates should move on. Or that the Democrats should have done a better job in organizing, or choosing candidates. They should have split that 48.4% better, or one candidate should have been stronger. But isn’t that essentially encouraging back-room deals? That is not what democracy should look like. If the good government groups that were behind the measure along with Gov. Schwarzenegger hoped they were enpowering the people, they should have known better.
This of course brings us to the Controller’s race (updated results here). Right now, the case isn’t as grim as my scenario just listed. Ashley Swearingen, the Republican Mayor of Fresno, leads all candidates with 24.4%. Former Speaker John Pérez is currently in second place with 21.7%, leading Republican David Evans by 2,436 votes and Democratic Member of the BOE Betty Yee by 5,643 votes. If those numbers hold up, Pérez would be the favorite to win in the fall.
But just who is this David Evans? He filed no campaign finance report with the Secretary of State, or at least nothing has yet appeared on Cal-Access. His website is vague and very 1998. He does have that video I posted, but there is otherwise very little information to go on. He is apparently a CPA, which I suppose is a reasonable qualification, especially when voters are none too pleased with their politicians. And his ballot designation of “Chief Financial Officer” and first ballot position are quite valuable when voters are coming into the ballot booth with very little information. But even with a good ballot designation, how exactly did he get 636,109 votes?
Because there is no campaign finance report, we don’t know how he used whatever small amount of money he had. Maybe he bought a few slate cards and hoped that his ballot designation would bring him luck. Apparently it did, although the legality of “Chief Financial Officer” seems somewhat questionable, considering adjectives aren’t normally allowed. Maybe there were some IEs for him, whether out of gamesmanship or sincere support for Mr. Evans, but I wasn’t able to track down on Cal-Access, but who knows with that website.
That being said, how could it truly be said that if Evans picks up 3,000 votes, that he and Swearingen are the strongest two candidates? Or the candidates that the voters of California want to see on the ballot. Not only does Top 2 disenfranchise lesser parties, in this case it could possibly disenfranchise the majority of the voters in the race between the two left-leaning parties.
Top 2 is fatally flawed. It is riddled with problems that promote the worst kind of gamesmanship and do nothing to promote democracy. Maybe somebody could dream up a more workable system, but it is a solution in search of a problem. And now it is a problem in search of a solution: the easiest being the complete repeal of Top-2 voting.