California's New "Top-Two" Election System Put To The Test

Election Day is upon us in California. While the top race, the presidential primary, may be all but settled, all 53 of California's Congressional seats are up for election today, as is one US Senate seat, two statewide ballot initiatives and many local offices.

Tuesday's primary election also marks the first test of Latino power under the State's new "Top Two" open primary system, as well as the new legislative districts created by the citizen committee. Because of the changes (both put in place by California voters), observers are predicting one of the most competitive election primaries in decades.

Put simply, a "Top Two" open primary means that state voters will be free to select candidates for Congress and the statehouse regardless of their own political party affiliation. The top two vote-getters in each race will proceed to the November General Election. Essentially, the race could end up Dem vs Dem.

California's new system was the brainchild of Abel Maldonado, a former Republican state senator and lieutenant governor from Santa Barbara County. The method is supposed to be a way to get rid of primaries dominated by the extreme left and right of their parties, allowing moderate candidates to emerge. The immediate result is that many "safe seats" are now gone, with many veteran incumbents announcing retirement or finding themselves facing serious challenges.

Californians will also decide on two statewide initiatives Tuesday:

Proposition 29 would impose a $1 tax on packs of cigarettes to fund cancer research, as California is one of only a few states that have not increased cigarette taxes in recent years.

Proposition 28 would slightly loosen the State's strict term limits for lawmakers, cutting the number of years they may serve from 14 to 12 but allowing them to complete the entire time in either the Assembly or Senate, which they cannot do now.

One of the most closely watched races is in Los Angeles County, where voters will choose a District Attorney expected to address allegations of gang-like cliques among sheriff's deputies, unlawful use of force in the prisons and the future of California's three-strikes law.

In Compton, a voting rights lawsuit brought by Latino residents has resulted in a reform measure to utilize district-wide elections for City Council, rather than citywide, with the hope of gaining more representative elected officials.

Between 2000 and 2010, California's Latino population grew increased by 27.8% to 14 million. The Latino electorate was decisive during the 2008 presidential primary and many statewide races. However, there is only one way to ensure that our political power continues to grow, and that is to make sure you and your friends and families get out to vote.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Polling place locations and other voter information can be found on county election websites: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Diego, Santa Clara, Alameda, Fresno, Sacramento and Kern.

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