Author Archives: Michael Alvarez

Voter Confidence and Perceptions of Election Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election

Our Monitoring the Election project has released two briefs, reporting on preliminary results from a national survey of registered voters conducted immediately after the November 3, 2020 Presidential Election.

These two briefs provide a glimpse into how the heated rhetoric about election and voter fraud before and during the general election has been received by the American electorate.

One of these briefs focuses on the general question of voter confidence in the election.

We asked registered voters to answer four questions about their confidence regarding the 2020 presidential election: their confidence that their own ballot was counted as intended (asked to registered voters who cast a ballot), and their confidence that ballots were counted in their county, their state, and across the nation (the latter three asked to all registered voters). The topline results are shown in this graph from the report.

Voter Confidence

As you can see, 90% of voters were confident that their ballot was counted as they intended, which given the heated rhetoric about this election is a remarkable number. It’s also remarkable that about eight of ten registered voters have confidence that votes were counted as intended in their counties and their states. Those are also remarkable numbers, and in my opinion, a strong indication that American voters are overall quite confident that their local and state election administration was handled well in this contested election.

But when we get to the national level, we find that just over a majority of American registered voters (58%) were confident about the administration of this fall’s election, and that 39% lacked confidence (the remaining registered voters didn’t have an opinion). This lower level of confidence about the national administration of the election is concerning.

Digging one layer deeper into the data, we looked at perceptions of confidence by partisanship and presidential vote. We see high levels of confidences for both Republicans and Democrats, and for both those who voted for Trump or Biden. Nearly every Democratic voters (and nearly every Biden voter) in our sample was confidence that their own ballot was counted as intended: 86% of Democrats were confidence, and 97% of Biden voters were confident. Among Republicans confidence in their own vote was high, with 85% of Republicans and 84% of Trump voters confident in their own vote being counted.

But moving to the national level, the sharp degree of partisan polarization in the United States emerges: while many Democratic and Biden voters were confident about the administration of the election nationally (84% among Democrats, and 87% among Biden voters), most Republicans and Trump supporters lacked confidence in the national administration of the election, with 66% of Republican registered voters lacking confidence, and 70% of Trump voters lacking confidence in the national administration of the vote.

The other brief, authored by Yimeng Li, focuses on a number of questions in the survey asking registered voters about their perceptions that various types of election or voter fraud might occur, and also about hacking of the voting technology in the 2020 election. The survey included questions asking whether the respondent thought that various types of election or voter fraud were common or not:

  • Double voting.
  • Stealing or tampering with voted ballots.
  • Voter impersonation.
  • Non-citizen voting.
  • People voting absentee ballots of other voters.
  • Officials changing reported vote counts in a way that is not a true reflection of how the ballots were actually counted.

Yimeng found that there is a sizable proportion of the American electorate that believes that voter or election frauds like these occur or are common. To quote from the report:

There are many registered voters nationally who said that election or voter fraud
is very common (between 12% and 17% for different types of fraud) or occurs
occasionally (15-17%). Ballot stealing or tempering, fraudulent casting of absentee
ballots intended for another person, and non-citizen voting are perceived to be the
top three types of election or voter fraud. Only about half of the voters believe each
of the six types of fraud occurs infrequently or almost never.

Like we saw regarding voter confidence in the 2020 Presidential election, the perceptions of the American electorate are very polarized along partisan lines. Across the six different types of election or voter fraud we asked about in the survey (Table 2 of the brief), we generally see that majorities of Biden voters believe that these types of fraud are infrequent or that they never occur, while majorities of Trump voters believe that these types of fraud are very common or that they occur occasionally.

A good example of this regards non-citizen voting. Sixty-six percent of Biden voters said that non-citizen voting almost never occurs, while another 12% said it occurs infrequently. On the other hand, 35% of Trump voters said that non-citizen voting is very common, and another 25% said that it occurs occasionally. That’s a pretty stark partisan different in perceptions of the incidence of non-citizen votes.

So what does this all mean, in particular for future elections in the United States?

It seems clear from these topline estimates from this survey that the American electorate remains confident that their own votes were counted, and that they are quite confident that votes in their counties and states were counted as intended. Which is a good sign.

But we see much less confidence in the national administration of the election, where opinions are deeply divided on party lines. We also see that a reasonably large segment of the electorate believes that various types of election or voter fraud occur, and that perceptions about the incidence of election fraud are polarized by partisanship.

This indicates that voters are picking up on elite partisan rhetoric about election and voter fraud, which have been going on since 2016, and which of course has intensified in the past few weeks. But does this mean that despite high levels of voter participation in the 2020 presidential election, will those who lack confidence or are concerned with fraud might be less likely to vote in future federal elections (for example, the 2022 and 2024 elections)? Will the lower levels of confidence in the national administration of federal elections, and concerns about election fraud for some segments of the electorate, lead to further erosion of trust in American democratic institutions?

At this point it’s hard to know what might happen. But these survey results provide some cause for concern, and they show that we need to continue our work to inform the American electorate about the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.

We’ll be posting additional briefs from our survey in coming days and weeks on our website.

Election Day Update From California

It’s a beautiful Election Day, at least here in Southern California!

A few quick morning updates.

  • The California Secretary of State’s latest updates (as of 11/1/2020) notes that 11,161,493 vote-by-mail ballots have been returned (with 22,388,716 issued). They are reporting (as of 11/1/2020) 661,265 in-person votes cast. That’s a total of 11,822,758 ballots returned or cast. Note that the final totals on the number of votes cast in the 2016 presidential election statewide was 14,610,509. It’s quite likely that by the time all of the ballots are in that we’ll exceed the total number of ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election.
  • San Bernardino County (one of the Southern California counties we are tracking) is reporting 463,351 ballots returned as of 11/1/2020. At a similar point in the 2016 presidential election cycle (San Bernardino County reported 221,470 ballots returned). Note that the 2020 mail ballot return numbers in San Bernardino County are currently running about twice what they were in the 2016 presidential election.
  • Orange County (another of our Southern California counties we are monitoring) is now reporting 1,208,924 vote-by-mail ballots returned (of 2,024,785 issued). As of 11/02/2020 OC is reporting a total of 182,841 in-person votes cast, which if we add those to the vote-by-mail ballots returned is 1,391,765 ballots returned or cast in OC.
  • Los Angeles County (yes, we are monitoring LAC as well!) last night reported 146,558 in-person votes cast, and 2,651,717 vote-by-mail ballots returned. From the data we are seeing, turnout this morning at voting centers in LA County is strong, and no doubt, there are still ballots being returned by mail, at drop boxes, and at voting centers throughout the county.

You can see our monitoring reports at Monitoring the Election.

So what are we seeing? Obviously there’s a lot of interest in this election, and so far, California’s voters have responded by returning their vote-by-mail ballots, or by voting in-person. More later today as we get additional data, and after visiting a number of in-person voting centers today.

Monitoring the Election Twitter Tracker

The Monitoring the Election project has launched our Twitter election monitoring tracker. You’ll see real-time data for tweets about election day voting, voter fraud, remote voting, election challenges, voter ID, and polling places. We also break the Twitter day down daily, and by state.

We also have written a methodology brief, which is available on the Monitoring the Election website.

So far, most of the tweets we are seeing regarding election day voting, voter fraud, and remote voting. It’s fascinating to look at the state-by-state Twitter discussions across the states. More on that next week!

Also, if you are interested, we’re moving a lot of new material and trackers to our November 2020 Dashboard. Take a look if you have a few minutes, there’s some pretty interesting analytical data from California and Orange County (CA) now on the Dashboard, and there’s more to come next week.

Early Election Problems

Last week, I gave a public presentation at Caltech, “Can American Have a Safe and Secure Presidential Election?” You can now watch it on YouTube!

One of the things I discussed in the talk were the many real issues that are likely to arise in this fall’s general election, things like long lines in early and Election day voting, administrative snafus, and voter mistakes. We are now starting to see some of these issue arising, as many Americans are now voting in-person, by mail, or using ballot drop boxes.

For example, last week there were reports of a ballot printing error in Los Angeles County, in which an estimated 2100 voters received ballots in the mail that did not have the presidential race.. Also in California, there are reports of unofficial ballot drop boxes being deployed in a number of counties throughout the state, including in Los Angeles, Fresno, and Orange Counties. And with the opening of early voting in Georgia came reports of very long lines, and very long voter wait times.

Keeping in mind that we are just really starting to enter the final weeks of the general election, and that there is a great deal of scrutiny on election administration and voting technology this year, my opinion is that we are really just seeing early signs of things to come. Voters need to be patient, and need to be very careful to check that they have received the right ballot (whether by mail or in person). And check your ballot carefully, making sure to return it to an official ballot drop box, or send it by mail using an official mail drop inside a USPS office.

VTP launches voter guide for November 2020

The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project has just launched a voter guide for November 2020. You can download the pdf of the voter guide from the VTP website.

Or here’s fun animated graphic (just click on the image, and it’ll launch the interactive voter guide in an informative and fun animated image)!

Special thanks to Silvia Kim for the great suggestion that we get a professional to make the animated graphic!

LA County March 2020 Primary Election Vote Center Evaluation Study

Today we are releasing our preliminary report that looks at the performance of vote centers in the March 2020 primary election in LA County. Our study, the “Preliminary Evaluation of Los Angeles County Vote Center Performance in the March 2020 Primary Elections”, was researched and written by Daniel Guth, Claudia Kann, Seo-young Silvia Kim, and myself.

The report presents the results of a large data analysis project we’ve done in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk, in which we use a number of unique datasets and dive deeply into many aspects of vote center operations in LA County’s March 2020 primary election. This new preliminary report gives a detailed data-driven analysis of the performance of LA County’s vote centers in the March 2020 primary election, paralleling our qualitative observations in our Election Day observation study, which was released on March 30, 2020.

The key recommendations from our detailed study of vote center performance in the March 2020 primary election are:

  1. We recommend that LACRR/CC strengthen and emphasize the process where real-time wait times data is collected for each vote center, and have them made available to voters and vote center staff in real-time.
  2. We recommend that additional independent evaluation of PollPad malfunctions be undertaken, especially with regard to the Internet connectivity and syncing of PollPads.
  3. We recommend that several datasets not analyzed in this report be made available to better assess the issues that arose in the March primary. These include evaluation of vote center locations, trouble ticket logs, and surveys of vote center staff.
  4. We recommend that LACRR/CC continue to study the functionality of BMDs in the
    March primary. Our research group will also continue to study the available data on
    BMD performance in the March primary. We suggest the following measures for the November general election:

    1. Provide clear, visible guidelines to the voter on how to correctly insert the ballot into the BMD at every BMD to reduce the paper jam rates.
    2. Train the vote center lead to quickly fix a malfunctioning BMD.
    3. Have a technical help backup team ready, especially late on Election Day.

We note that some of our recommendations parallel those in the recently released VSAP Board Report, and we welcome the opportunity to continue our collaboration with the LA County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk, Dean Logan, and his team. We want to thank Dean Logan and his team for providing us with this unparalleled opportunity to have access to the data we used in this report, and for their willingness to answer our questions and help us understand the data and vote center operations in the March primary election.

Resilient Elections

I’m excited to announce that I’ve started a video series with Paul Gronke, who runs the Early Voting Information Center (EVIC) up at Reed College. We just posted our first video, in which Paul and I give a brief introduction to the series. Please watch our intro, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and let us know your comments and questions.

As we discuss in the introductory video, we are going to focus on topics that we know are going to be important to researchers and election officials as we get closer to the November 2020 presidential elections in the U.S. Paul and I will are working on a number of different videos — some will be the two of us discussing important election science and administration topics. Some will be conversations with other academics who are working on important research questions like voting by mail, election forensics, election integrity, and voter confidence. And finally, we are going to have conversations with election officials, in particular those on the West Coast, who have extensive experience with early and remote voting.

If you are interested in suggesting certain topics, let us know in the YouTube channel comments.

Seo-young Silvia Kim: The Benefits of In-Person Election Observation

Guest Blog by Seo-young Silvia Kim

Silvia Kim is a PhD candidate at Caltech, currently finishing her dissertation research on American Politics and Political Methodology. Silvia has been a key collaborator on the Monitoring the Election project. She’ll be starting her new position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at American University in August 2020.

On Super Tuesday, I drove more than 170 miles alone in my tattered old car, zigzagging through both Los Angeles and Orange County for election observations, visiting nine vote centers from noon to 10pm. Usually our team policy is to go out in pairs, but this year I was determined to roam the new vote centers far and wide all day, so I volunteered to go alone.

I am a quantitative data analyst—that is to say, I revel in gathering and analyzing numbers. Qualitative research, which focuses on unquantifiable, non-numerical data, is usually not my turf and out of my interest. Yet ever since I jumped into the world of elections and election administration, I have been observing elections every primary and general Election Day. And I would never underestimate the importance of in-person observations in research.

The benefit of in-person observations are numerous. One gets to observe the election take place out in the open, the street-level bureaucrats and voters at their natural “habitat.” Once I arrive, I observe the exterior of the location, ask permission from the center lead to observe, stand still in a corner so that I do not get in the way of voter, and then observe for 10 to 30 minutes. When there is not much traffic at the center and there are no notable troubles, ten minutes could be enough. When there are long lines and apparent trouble at the location, sometimes even 30 minutes is not enough.

If time and place allow, I may also be able to chat with various vote center staff. This did not happen as much as in 2016 or 2018, as there was high turnout and the staff were busy. But during the early voting period, or in locations with less voters, or when a staff is biting into cold pizza slices, I get to ask questions about what is going on at the voting location. Are all check-in devices working properly? Did they receive all necessary equipment on time? Were communications with the Registrar smooth and readily available? Were there any particular spikes in provisional voting or voter information edits, and if so, why? In most cases, they are happy to provide answers, as I consolidate these into recommendations for the Registrar, as in the Los Angeles Vote Center Observation Report.

While these anecdotes may not necessarily be generalizable, they provide important intuition as to what to look for when numerical data actually arrives. For instance, I personally observed thousands of students milling in a line to vote, a vote center in Los Angeles County. Did the same happen in Orange County, where I did not get to see any college locations? When I analyzed the wait time data, as reported in our Orange County Vote Center Observation and Wait Time Report, I did indeed see long wait time at UCI, CSUF, and Chapman University’s data. Based on the intuition built from my observations, I can look for common patterns in the data more quickly. In other words, the qualitative analysis that I undertake provides direction and guidance.


With COVID-19, the administrators all around the United States are scrambling to prepare for the voting experience in the midst of a pandemic. It may not be possible to “observe” the election as I usually have. It will still be beneficial if alternatives can be implemented—for example, researchers talking directly to staff that have worked on the in-person voting locations via the phone. If not, we still hope that the intuition that we have gathered for Los Angeles and Orange County improve the voting experience of Southern California’s electorate in future elections.

The Blue Shift in California Elections

Guest Blog by Michelle Hyun

Michelle is an undergraduate student at Caltech. In the summer of 2019, she was a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) at Caltech. Her research was conducted in collaboration with Yimeng Li and R. Michael Alvarz. We have recently released a working paper, it’s now available online, “Why Do Election Results Change After Election Day? The Blue Shift in California Elections.”

With the presidential primaries ongoing, and the November 2020 general election looming, it is critical to explain the trends of voters and the integrity of the election. In many past elections, the occurrence of the electoral “Blue Shift,” in which vote margins are observed to shift towards favoring Democratic candidates, has provided a surge of votes in the later parts of the vote count that has caused changes in leads more often than expected. This shift can cause people to call into question the integrity of the election system, which is dangerous for the legitimacy of democratic elections and the participation of voters in their government.

The blue shift has been observed in several past elections: one such example was the 39th District’s 2018 election for the U.S. House of Representatives, Young Kim believed she had won the race, but after a few weeks, it was revealed that her opponent, Gil Cisneros, had actually won. Elections in Orange County, California in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018 for House of Representative seats, gubernatorial seats, and presidential seats were analyzed to seek the cause of the drift. Shifts occurred across almost all of these elections, and while they may not have been enough to change the results of all the elections, the drift was certainly enough to raise questions.

Technological advances have made ballot counting and transmission of election results faster than ever. In many states including California, soon after polls close, election officials release results from early-voting ballots and mail ballots that have been processed before Election Day, followed by regular ballots cast on Election Day as precincts report them. Major cable networks, radio stations, and other media organizations receive these results from The Associated Press correspondents stationed at local government offices and data feeds provided by local governments as soon as they become available and make projections on most races. As a result, for voters following Election Day coverage on TV, radio, the Internet, or through morning newspapers, it may appear that elections are mostly over except for a few close contests by the end of Election Night. This perception masks the reality that a significant fraction of ballots is counted after Election Day, especially in states like California where voting by mail and provisional ballots are common.

This paper shows that the demographics of the voters and the number of ballots that are counted later in the election process are directly related to the magnitude of the blue shift. Using data from the Orange County Registrar of Voters (OCROV), we were able to find a positive association between Democratic voters and blue shifts; additionally, using data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey (CCES) and the Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE), we were able to find that young, non-white voters are more likely to cast ballots that are counted later in the vote count process. Our findings are significant in that they explain a phenomenon that may call into question the integrity of our voting system. As the presidential primaries continue and as the general election approaches, we seek to establish voter confidence to encourage voter participation and ensure a smooth transition of power.

Guest Blog by Andrew Sinclair: California’s Top-Two Primary

California’s Top-Two Primary, by Andrew Sinclair

After 2020’s “Super Tuesday,” many of the news headlines in California (and the rest of the nation) will focus on the outcome of the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination contests. Yet, there are other elections taking place in California at the same time, continuing California’s experiment with the “top-two primary.”

There are actually three types of elections taking place in California. The presidential contest is a traditional partisan primary. Unaffiliated (“no party preference”) voters can participate in the Democratic Party primary if they request a Democratic ballot. Still, the election is partisan in nature: it helps determine which candidate will be the party’s nominee for the November general election. The other two kinds of elections are both variants of nonpartisan elections.

California uses the nonpartisan top-two election procedure for “voter-nominated offices.” This year, these are the State Assembly, State Senate, and U.S. House elections (there are no statewide office or U.S. Senate elections this year). For these elections, every voter can choose between all of the candidates. The two candidates with the most votes advance to the general election in November, even if they come from the same party. Candidates for these offices list their party preference on the ballot. For a short explainer on how this works, Christian Grose (USC) has a great 4-minute description in an interview with NPR: here.

California also holds elections for “nonpartisan offices.” This can be a bit confusing, since the top-two for the voter-nominated offices also is a kind of nonpartisan election – but for these elections (county supervisor, etc.), the candidates also do not list their own party preference on the ballot and, if one candidate gets more than 50% in the primary, that person is simply elected. Otherwise, these are pretty similar to the voter-nominated top-two elections.

California adopted the nonpartisan top-two procedure for voter-nominated offices by passing Proposition 14 in 2010. Michael Alvarez and I wrote a book – Nonpartisan Primary Election Reform: Mitigating Mischief (Cambridge University Press, 2015) – about the first use of the top-two in California in 2012. I have been following along since then as we have learned more in each cycle about how this rule operates.

The top-two procedure is different than what we see in most states, both in the primary and general election (Ian O’Grady and I make this argument in the Routledge Handbook of Primary Elections – which is a nice resource; the other chapters are great). For political scientists, the institutional variation the top-two represents provides an interesting window into primary elections, voter behavior more generally, and the operation of political parties. This post highlights a few things to look for in the 2020 cycle here in California.

Why 2020 is unique.

This will be the fifth cycle with the rules in California, although each election year has taken place in a unique context in terms of top-of-the-ticket races and the state of national politics. The 2020 election will be the first of this era to take place in March, with the Democratic Party’s nomination far from over. With all of the previous primaries in June, California had a more limited role in the 2012 and 2016 presidential primaries. It is also the first of the top-two elections to have no statewide elections (either statewide offices as in 2014 and 2018 or a U.S. Senate election as in 2012, 2016, and 2018).

It may be the case that Republicans, without a meaningful presidential contest or statewide election, will turn out at much lower rates than Democrats. Registered Republican voters make up only 24% of the state’s electorate (as of the Feb. 18 report from the Sec. of State). Since all candidates – Republicans and Democrats alike – are in the same primary for the voter-nominated offices, low turnout for one party can potentially make it hard for that party’s candidates to make it to the November ballot.

What to look for.

How many same-party general elections will there be? In past election cycles, it has still been the case that most primaries sent one Republican and one Democrat to the general election. If the Republican vote does collapse, it is possible that we may see more Democrat-on-Democrat general elections.

Where are the same-party elections? Following up on an observation in the Alvarez-Sinclair book, I (and coauthors Ian O’Grady, Brock McIntosh, and Carrie Nordlund) examined over a couple of cycles where these same-party elections tended to take place. The punchline: the more politically lopsided the district, the more likely it is to see two candidates of the same party advance to the general election. These can make the election a lot more competitive than they likely would be otherwise, too. Does that finding continue to hold?

How well do party-endorsed candidates do? One of the prevailing theories of primary elections is that parties generally do a pretty good job of organizing to back their preferred candidates (for a neat recent book on this, see Hans Hassell’s The Party’s Primary, among others).

What happens to races with crowded fields? In not every contest do the parties manage to keep the number of candidates of their own party down. While somewhat odd results do not happen very often, they can: nearly everyone cites the 2012 Miller-Dutton CD 31 race when they want an example in part because it illustrates a potential issue and in part because there are not many other examples. The idea is that the vote can split across candidates in such a way that the majority party could, if the cards fall exactly right, end up shut out of the general election.

How do moderate candidates do? This was, of course, one of the original claims about the top-two primary (for a nice summary from Eric McGhee at PPIC: here). As Nolan McCarty wrote in his recent book on polarization, results of studies on the impact of the primary reform on polarization are “decidedly mixed.” This is part of the fun of political science – as multiple scholars use different approaches to work towards an understanding of a problem. See work from Christian Grose (here) and Eric McGhee and Boris Shor (here).

Do any incumbents look to face stiff challenges in November? Beyond the question of ideological moderation, it may also be the case that voters can use the top-two to eject candidates from office who have performed poorly (potentially democratically meaningful, even if the replacement is ideologically similar).

What happens with third party/independent candidates? These candidacies have not generally been very successful under the top-two at reaching the general election (although, under the old partisan system, they were also not very successful at winning offices).

Are voters happy with their choices? In the surveys for our book, Michael Alvarez and I found that voters were fairly uncertain about what they expected from the top-two. As they experience it: do they learn about it, and get used to it? Or discover that they don’t like it?

Particular Races to Watch.

Congressional District 8. This used to be Paul Cook’s (R) district; in announcing his retirement, he set off one of the more interesting contests in this cycle. Republican Assemblyman Jay Obernolte won the Republican Party endorsement but there are five Republicans on the ballot in total, including a former candidate for Governor, Tim Donnelly. Yet there are also three Democrats and one NPP candidate on the ballot.

Congressional District 25. This is the Katie Hill seat – and it drew six Democrats, six Republicans, and one NPP candidate. The state Republican Party did not endorse a candidate and there are several potential contenders. The Democratic Party has not issued an endorsement in this race either. To further compound the story, there is a simultaneous special election to fill the remainder of the term.

There are others that will be pretty interesting, but those two are certainly worth checking in on as the returns come in. Of course, it may be quite some time before we really know what the results are for some tightly contested races.

What’s hard to see this week.

The top-two election procedure impacts both the primary and the general election. Some of the research on the top-two points towards finding the most interesting results in the general election. In the surveys Michael Alvarez and I conducted in 2012, we found that mostly voters tried to choose ideologically proximate candidates in the primary. (See also a nice study: Ahler, Citrin, and Lenz: here). But what happens once two candidates of the same party advance to the general election?

There is interesting work now (see Badas and Stauffer 2019) on gender and nonpartisan elections as well as race and ethnicity in same-party general elections under the top-two (see Sadhwani and Mendez 2018). If party is not a cue, voters have to decide somehow; Betsy Sinclair and Michael Wray (2105) found that same-party elections corresponded with increased Google searching just before the election.

One of the more commonly mentioned consequences of same-party elections in November, also, is the possibility that “orphaned” voters will not participate (see Nagler 2015, Masket, via Vox, 2016, Fisk 2019 – Fisk with the on-point title of “No Republican, No Vote”). Yet, many still do participate, and we will have to see over the next several months how candidates in these same-party races try to appeal to these voters. It is possible to get something like what reformers intended (something like the 2012 AD5 race) if a centrist candidate holds on to a sizable enough – if short of a majority – of the voters of their own party, and pulls in just enough of the orphaned voters as well. That’s a delicate balancing act, though, because going too far towards recruiting support from the other party can cost a candidate support within their own.

In the larger picture, I would also say that it can take a long time to assess how political institutions function. Politics is a complicated business, and many of the institutions interact. Some of the scholars referenced here have noted that California passed the top-two procedure and the citizen redistricting process around the same time, making it hard to sort out the impact of each. I also wrote, in a paper on the adoption of the simple majority requirement to pass the state budget (Proposition 25, also in 2010), that it directly impacted one of the main motivations for passing the top-two (to get more moderate legislators, to be able to pass a budget). The election rules also operate within a political context defined by the party and ideological divisions present at the time (I am particularly fond of Hans Noel’s book on the difference between these: link). With different ideological and social cleavages, the rules may also have different consequences.

About the author: Andrew Sinclair is an Assistant Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College. He has studied and written about California’s top-two primary process, as well as the primary election procedures in other states.