Editor's Pick

Double Duty Voting: The Inside Scoop on California’s Unique Senate Race!

In the heart of American democracy are the principles of representation and participation. In California, these principles are brought into sharp focus as citizens find themselves needing to vote twice in Senate races. While this practice may seem unique, and potentially confusing, it is deeply rooted in the state’s electoral laws and procedures. To understand why one has to vote twice in California’s Senate race, it is essential to know that California follows a ‘top-two’ primary system. This system, established in 2011 following the passing of Proposition 14, changed the state’s primary elections for statewide offices, including the Senate. Under this system, all candidates, regardless of political affiliation, compete in the same primary. Voters can cast their votes for any candidate, and the top two vote-getters advance to the general election. This often leads to scenarios where two candidates from the same party are contending in the final race. So, why does this system necessitate voters to cast their votes twice? Let us consider a scenario where there are multiple candidates vying in the primary stage of the Senate race. As a voter, one casts their vote for their preferred candidate during this stage. However, there is a chance that their chosen candidate might not be among the top two vote-getters, meaning they will not proceed to the general election. In this situation, the voter needs to vote again in the general election, where they choose between the top two candidates emerging from the primary. Secondly, voters may need to vote a second time due to the Senate’s six-year term limit. In California, the two Senate seats are staggered such that they are not up for election during the same cycle. For instance, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat was up for election in 2018, while Senator Kamala Harris’s seat, which is now held by Alex Padilla due to Harris’s vice-presidential appointment, will be up for election in 2022. This sets up an electoral structure where California voters participate in Senate races in successive election years, essentially voting twice over a two-year period. Moreover, extraordinary circumstances may lead to a special election being called, which may compel citizens to vote twice in a Senate race. This happened in 2021 when a special election was declared following Kamala Harris’s departure from her Senate seat to become Vice President. A distinct election had to be carried out to fill her seat, resulting in Californian voters having to vote twice in the Senate race within that election year.

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