California June 2012 Primary in Assembly District One Show that "Top-two Open Primaries" Don't Eliminate "Spoiling"

Sometimes supporters of top-two open primary systems say that their system eliminates “spoiling”, i.e., the so-called tendency of minor party candidates in a race to alter the identity of the winner. But, that argument is faulty. This is clearly illustrated in the First Assembly District results in California’s June 5 primary.

Two Republicans ran: Brian Dahle received 31,687 votes, and Rick Bosetti received 25,820 votes. They will be the only candidates in November. They are both firm opponents of any tax increases. In addition, one Democrat, Robert Meacher, ran. He received 24,081 votes, not enough to qualify for the November ballot. Also, Green Party member David Edwards ran, and received 5,225 votes; and Libertarian Charley Hooper ran and received 4,839 votes. Here is a newspaper story, in which the Democrat, Robert Meacher, says that if the two minor party candidates had not been in the race, he would have received enough votes to qualify for the November ballot. See the fifth paragraph in the story. Meacher is probably correct.

Assembly District One consists of the northeast corner of California. If California still used a normal system in which party members nominate candidates for the November election, voters in this district in November would be able to vote for any one of four parties, for Assembly. But, in reality, voters will be restricted to choosing between two Republicans, both of whom are very similar on the issues.

If top-two supporters are sincere that they wish to eliminate “spoiling”, it would be more rational for them to support Instant Runoff Voting or Approval Voting.


  1. Gary Bryant · · Reply

    Just as all of us predicted about prop 14. Two years ago, I ran an radio ad about this and urged voters to vote no (it’s on this web’s June, 2010 issue).

  2. Do you honestly believe that a Democrat was going to win that seat in November if they were on the ballot?

  3. Richard Winger · · Reply

    #2, elections are about more than just who takes the office. Campaigns influence public opinion, and voting has an expressive component. People want to vote for someone they agree with.

    The US Supreme Court said in Lubin v Panish, “It is to be expected that a voter hopes to find on the ballot a candidate who comes near to reflecting his policy preferences on contemporary issues.”

  4. […] And more. Much more. Voting rights: “On June 8, two Florida voters and a voting rights group filed a lawsuit to stop a new attempt by the Florida Secretary of State to purge the voting rolls of certain voters” based on the […]

  5. Demo Rep · · Reply

    Top 2 stuff is having 2 plurality overall extremists make it to the general election — instead of a mere 1 extremist in each party hack gang.

    HOWEVER — Political SCIENCE has advanced since the Dark/Middle Ages – like much other SCIENCE stuff.

    ONE election day.

    P.R. and nonpartisan App.V. — pending advanced Condorcet head to head math.

    REAL P.R. especially WILL have many more # 3 voters be lots more happy — i.e. ALL voters will elect a legislator.

    Democracy = Majority Rule 24/7.

    IF ANY majority becomes oppressive to a minority, then the FIRST LAW of govt will be enforced — Democracy Govts exist ONLY to protect *rights*.

    Monarchy/oligarchy regimes exist ONLY to oppress majorities and especially various minorities — see the various victim minority groups in the EVIL 1933-1945 Hitler monarchy regime.

  6. […] Much more. Voting rights: “On Jun 8, dual Florida electorate and a voting rights organisation filed a lawsuit to stop a new attempt by a Florida Secretary of State to inform a voting rolls of certain voters” formed on a […]

  7. Score Voting or Approval Voting would be a good choice here.

    Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) behaves very similarly to the top-two runoff, with regard to the “vote splitting problem”. Look at these sample preferences, for instance.

    35% Progressive > Democrat > Republican
    32% Democrat > Progressive > Republican
    33% Republican > Democrat > Progressive

    With normal two-round runoffs, the Progressive and Republican go to the second round, where the Progressive trounces the Republican 67% to 33%. IRV does the same thing, but in “a single round”.

    But notice how the Democrat is preferred to the Progressive by a huge 65% majority (the second and third rows of voters). The Democrat is also preferred to the Republican by a huge 67% margin. Clearly the Democrat has the most overall support by far. Huge majorities prefer the Democrat to BOTH OTHER CANDIDATES.

    This is the “center squeeze” effect of runoff voting, including “Instant” Runoff Voting. Nice balanced centrists usually lose to strong partisans who sit too far to the left or to the right of the average voter.

    You see the consequences of this in countries like France, which use runoffs. They just had Sarkozy for five years — far too conservative for France. Now they have Hollande, who is broadly liked, but who would apparently lose badly to moderate/centrist Francois Bayrou. Bayrou also appeared to be the beats-all winner in the last French election. But instead of going down a nice steady path of stable leadership, France veers back and forth from too-far-left to too-far-right. This is the trend with runoff-based countries, and IRV has a slightly less severe form of the same problem.

    Whereas Score Voting and Approval Voting tend to elect moderate/centrist candidates with a combination of breadth and depth of support, who would tend to win head-to-head against their rivals.

    You can see this expressed via pictures (from election simulations) here:

  8. Just allow voters to vote for as many candidates in the first round and the second round allow the top n candidates to qualify, with n being the square root of the total number of candidates.

  9. Richard, are you insinuating that somehow the Green spoiled it for the Democrat?

  10. Richard Winger · · Reply

    #9, the article quotes the Democrat as saying both minor party candidates’ presence in the race prevented him from qualifying for the November ballot.

    People who assume that voters who vote Libertarian would all vote Republican if the Libertarian weren’t in the race are not paying attention to the data. In California in 2000, even the presidential primary had all the candidates from all the parties on a single ballot. Election officials kept track of the vote cast by members of each party. Harry Browne, the Libertarian in that presidential primary, got the votes of .3% of all the registered Democrats, but only .2% of all the registered Republicans.

  11. Well, we cannot rely on the claims of losing candidates to substantiate the misleading spoiler claim. No one is entitled to a vote and if the Democrat did not earn enough votes to move on in a ridiculous voting system, it’s not the Greens fault.

  12. Baronscarpia · · Reply

    3 –

    “…elections are about more than just who takes the office. Campaigns influence public opinion, and voting has an expressive component. People want to vote for someone they agree with.”

    What shamefully antiquated thinking, Richard. In the new political world created by the USSC, elections are about people voting for the candidates who “express” the views which are held by the “persons” who spend the most dolla…er…sorry, “free speech” during the campaign. The system works beautifully. The monied element of our society hammers home the messages that will keep them comfortably monied and powerful, and our purchased votes are cast to validate their supremacy. It’s a beautiful system.

    One you’ve endorsed in this space.

    By the way – still looking for an answer to my question, now posed seven times – is a law which prohibits the purchase and sale of heroin an unconstitutional abridgement of free speech?

  13. Richard Winger · · Reply

    #12, I think a law which prohibits the purchase and sale of heroin violates the Ninth Amendment.

  14. Baronscarpia · · Reply

    14 –

    Interesting, but not responsive. So I’ll ask an eighth time – see above if you need a refresher.

  15. Demo Rep · · Reply

    #12 + 14 —

    See the book – Sources of Our Liberties, edited by Richard L. Perry (1959) — before SCOTUS went NUTS in the 1960s.

    Sorry – NO mention of heroin or any other drug in SOL.

    Sorry – NO mention of ballot access in SOL.

    i.e. nonstop PERVERSION of all sorts of stuff using very limited 1776-1791 language.

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