03/22/2012 by Gina Baleria

CAFwd Radio: A closer look at two new election reforms

Two new democracy reforms are debuting in this year's election cycle: redistricting and the top-two primary. While much was discussed when they were being voted on, little has been said to prepare the public for the differences in the electoral process.

We discussed them on our latest CAFwd Radio Show. The full audio is above, but here's a rundown:

Top-two was approved by voters as Prop14 in 2010. Now, instead of each party choosing a candidate in the primary to send to the general election, all primary candidates will be on the same ballot, and the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election.

“It moves away from the parties nominating a candidate and puts the selection in the voters’ hands,” said Gail Pellerin, president of the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials. “You could very well see two democrats or two republicans voting against each other in November.”

Minor parties are concerned that top-two could take away their voices. But, “supporters say Prop 14 might help us elect more moderate state senators, assembly members, congressional members that will help improve negotiations and efficiency in our state and nation’s capital,” Pellerin said.

Two other states that implemented top-two -- Louisiana and Washington -- have not seen this moderation. But, a second voter-approved reform, citizen’s redistricting, is expected to help achieve the goals of moderation and collaboration.

Kathay Feng, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan California Common Cause, said the Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC), approved by voters with Props 11 and 20, brought the process to the voters in a transparent and accountable way.

Prior to the change, “legislators would hold hearings, and despite impassioned testimony and really good organizing, they went behind closed doors and drew the lines that they really wanted.”

Over the course of 2011, the CRC redrew congressional, legislative, and Board of Equalization district lines in full view of the public and with a massive amount of their input.

All told, 30,000 people applied to be commissioner, and more than 20,000 people all over the state appeared before the commission in the open hearings. Redistricting is not considered a sexy issue, but Feng said that Californians grew so accustomed to feeling disenfranchised that when they finally felt as if they were being heard, they responded in droves. 

“There were many commission hearings where the room was packed with no seating in the aisles or the back, and they had to have overflow rooms. People were really passionate talking about their communities and why a particular line was good or bad.”

California Forward applauds both of these reforms for bringing government closer to the people of California, and the people themselves for having the fortitude to see them through from inception to implementation.

To listen to the CA Fwd Radio Show podcast, go to cafwd.org/radio.

Gina Baleria is Communications Manager at California Forward and host of the CAFwd Radio Show.

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