California’s new political reality, explained

by - June 05, 2012

“California will make history tomorrow,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “We will see our open primary system and new citizen-drawn districts in action for the first time. There is nothing else like it and I know we are starting yet another national trend.”

But just how does it work? And how different is it?

California’s congressional delegation is notoriously entrenched, and in fact, just one of the state’s 53 districts switched between parties over the last decade (and it only did so once).

Under the new system, there should be considerably more party swapping. Why?

First, the redistricting map drawn by the citizens commission totally revamped the gerrymandered congressional map, leaving many incumbents drawn into districts with other incumbents. Others found themselves in much more competitive districts or with no seat at all to run in.

The result is that upwards of a dozen seats in California will be genuine tossups this fall.

The way in which those winners will be chosen will be different too.

California has adopted a “top-two” primary system – already used by Washington state – to select two candidates for the November general election. All candidates today will run on the same primary ballot, meaning some districts will see two Republicans or two Democrats move on to the general election rather than one from each party.

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