PD Editorial: State's election reforms pass their first test

  • This artwork by Donna Grethen relates to the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

Sonoma County voters ushered in a game-changing reform Tuesday, choosing between rival Democratic candidates in two Assembly districts.

Statewide, 28 legislative and congressional contests had two Democrats or two Republicans on the ballot, the result of a new system that pits the top two finishers in the primary against one another, even if they're members of the same party.

The top-two system was one of two voter-approved reforms that took effect with the 2012 election. The other was creating an independent commission to draw new district boundaries.

Together, they produced close races — and ended the careers of several incumbents — across a state where the outcome of past elections could often be predicted before the first vote was cast.

One of the most competitive races was in the 10th Assembly District, which includes Marin and part of Sonoma County.

Assemblyman Michael Allen moved into the district after his Santa Rosa-based district was eliminated in reapportionment. Allen is a party leader in Sacramento, and his district almost certainly would have been protected if legislators were still drawing the boundaries.

The commission didn't defer to incumbency, and neither did San Rafael Councilman Marc Levine, who was implored by Democratic leaders to wait his turn, to defer to Allen.

Levine finished second in the June 5 primary. In past years, that would have been the end of his challenge. Allen would have run against Republican Peter Mancus in the general election, and, protected by an overwhelming Democratic edge in voter registration, he would have easily won a second term. Not this year.

Instead of a cakewalk, this is a cliff-hanger. After a spirited campaign, Levine finished ahead of Allen on election night by about 1,700 votes. It will take a few weeks to process all of the late-arriving absentee ballots, but the math favors Levine.

Regardless of the outcome, the top-two primary produced a competitive race where winning every vote — Democrat, Republican and independent — was important.

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