[EM] A simpler approval based way of replacing the CA jungle primary

Rob Lanphier robla at robla.net
Mon Aug 13 21:36:28 PDT 2018

On Sat, Aug 11, 2018 at 1:50 PM Kristofer Munsterhjelm
<km_elmet at t-online.de> wrote:
> I also happened across the following draft paper by James Green-Armytage
> on the question of how to select candidates for a top-two runoff:
> http://jamesgreenarmytage.com/runoff.pdf

Thanks for reviving this thread, Kristofer!  Also, thanks for pointing
out the Green-Armytage/Tideman paper.  I'll queue that up on my
reading list, and I'll be in a better position to respond to your full
mail.  Just in my initial skim, it looks like they make some of the
points that match my intuition on the subject.  In particular (to
quote the paper):

> Thus, one function of a [primary election selecting two candidates]
> is to concentrate the attention of citizens on the relative merits of
> the two finalists. When citizens know who these finalists are, they have
> greater motivation to acquire information about them, ensuring that the
> eventual winner will undergo close scrutiny during the campaign.

This is the reason why I dislike arguments that discount the value of
primary elections.  If structured correctly, a primary election
followed by a general election allows us to balance two competing
a.  we want elections with liberal ballot access as the most
democratic way to ensure a diverse selection of candidates.
b.  we don't want to overwhelm the electorate (and the press, and our
public debates) with too many candidates

A well-structured primary/general pairing can allow us to have both.
Primary voters can vet a wide field of candidates, and give us a sane
general election cycle.  With a more sophisticated voting system than
FPTP, it seems possible to have a field with more than 2 candidates
(e.g. 3, 4 or maybe even 5 candidates).  More than 5 candidates
becomes kind of a clown show, as evidenced by the 2008-2016 Republican
on-stage U.S. presidential debates, and the 2004-2008 Democratic
counterparts.  When the field narrows to 2-3 viable candidates, the
policy discussions can get interesting

I'd be skeptical of a system that declares no need for a second round,
and moreover, I suspect it won't be a viable incremental improvement
to California's existing system.  One path I could see forward is:

phase 0 (current): plurality-based top-two primary, plurality general
election with exactly 2 candidates
phase 1: approval-based primary, plurality general election which
almost always has 2 candidates
phase 1.1: approval-based primary, plurality general election which
frequently has 3-5 candidates
phase 2: approval-based primary, approval-based general election

The only difference between "phase 1" and "phase 1.1" is the
acclimation of the electorate and the politicians to the system,
rather than rule changes.  I imagine that, at first, voters would
bullet vote more frequently than strategically sensible, and
candidates would focus on traditional Democratic or Republican base
voters.  Over time, it seems as though candidates would figure out how
to exceed the 50% threshold as crossover candidates, and it would
become more commonplace (only dampened by fear of spoiler candidates
in the general election).  Phase 2 would require another change of
law, which my July 23 proposal tries to anticipate but not mandate.

Having experienced California elections up-close for a little while
(e.g. our 2018 U.S. Senate primary, which had 32 candidates), and
witnessing from a short distance the craziness of the 2003 California
gubernatorial recall election (which had 135 candidates), I've come to
appreciate the value of winnowing down the number of options.  I can't
imagine using a ranking system for that many candidates.  It will be
interesting to tear into the Green-Armytage/Tideman paper, but it may
require more brain cells than I have to spare tonight.  Soon, I hope


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