Expect the unexpected in California politics. On Tuesday, voters took a step away from bitter partisan primaries, deciding to hold "open primaries" in the future, wherein the top two finishers -- regardless of party affiliation -- would face off in November elections.
Under the "top two" system, promoted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado
, Republicans could wind up running against Republicans and Democrats against Democrats in future general elections. A similar model is already in play in Washington state and has also been used in various local jurisdictions.
The idea is to diffuse the extremes in both parties that tend to influence primaries and push candidates farther to the right or left of the political spectrum. But there is little data to show whether that would be the result. "There's just not much evidence that it adjusts the ideology of elected officials that much," Public Policy Institute of California Fellow Eric McGhee told the Washington Post
Party regulars on both sides opposed to the ballot issue and were dismayed by the vote. California GOP spokesman Mark Standriff told the Post, "We're going to disenfranchise 5.3 million Republican voters who should have a voice in who their nominee is." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, also argued against the change, which establishes the "top two" system for most state and federal contests, but not presidential races.
The proposition passed easily and could go into effect in the 2012 primary. But this being California, it isn't over; a legal challenge is a near certainty.