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Could California's new primary system work in Texas?


The following ran in the June 24, 2012, edition of the Austin American-Statesman. Political Scientist Cal Jillson provided expertise for this story.

June 27, 2012

By Tim Eaton

In California, just like in Texas, all the action happens in the primaries, and general elections are often little more than a formality.

Politics in both states, among others, are dominated by a single political party. On top of that, state lawmakers tend to draw congressional and legislative districts to heavily favor one party. The result is that most elections are essentially decided in the primaries by a small number of voters.

But now California is scrapping the old way and experimenting with a new election structure that would make general elections more competitive and allow voters to elect more moderate candidates. It's still early, but some people are saying that California could eventually serve as a model for the nation — maybe even for Texas....

Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson said the concern about the polarization of partisan primaries is a common theme, including in Texas.

The current system of partisan primaries in Texas has pushed Republican statewide candidates — who have won every election since the mid-1990s — to cater to the right wing of the party, resulting in the most conservative candidates being elected by a small portion of the overall electorate, he said.

Conversely, a top-two primary system could provide hope that more moderate candidates could be elected by the larger number of voters who turn out in general elections — and who tend to be more moderate than those who generally vote in primaries, Jillson said.

"All of the candidates will have to appeal to as many voters as possible, not just some partisan base," Jillson said....