California is using Proposition 14, the “top-two open primary” system, this year for the first time in a regularly-scheduled election. At least three newspaper columnists or reporters this month have told readers that if someone gets 50% of the vote in June for Congress or state office, that person is elected and the office is not on the November ballot. Here is the latest example, from the Argonaut, a free weekly newspaper in western Los Angeles County. The last sentence of the article is “If no single candidate reaches 50% plus one on June 5, the runoff for the general election will be November 6.” UPDATE: here is another example of an incorrect news story. See the third paragraph in this story, published in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario, California.
The confusion arises because proponents of Proposition 14, ever since 2010, have claimed that Proposition 14 is “just like” non-partisan two-round elections for California county office, and for city office in a few cities. The truth is that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 in Foster v Love that states must hold congressional elections in all districts in November. If states want a run-off, they must hold it after November. Georgia and Louisiana are the only states that require congressional run-offs if no one gets 50% in November. In hundreds, if not thousands, of media stories about the California primary system, not one source has mentioned Foster v Love. Of course proponents of Proposition 14 knew about Foster v Love, which is why they wrote Proposition 14 to provide that there is always a November election for Congress and state office in every district, no matter whether someone gets 50% in June or not.
Another factual error that is repeated endlessly in California is that before Proposition 14, independent voters were blocked from voting in major party primaries for Congress and state office. Ever since 2001, the Republican and Democratic Parties have let independent voters vote in all their congressional and state office primaries. When such voters entered the polling place on primary day, or requested a mail ballot, they were told of their choices; they didn’t need to ask.