National News

Mayor Garcetti Is Not a Fan of the Jungle Primary

Posted June 19, 2018 1:09 p.m. EDT

They have not quite finished counting the votes in the primary that took place in California on June 5. But a verdict is in on the state’s unusual election system from one prominent voter: It doesn’t work.

That verdict comes from Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles, who assessed California’s jungle primary during a freewheeling conversation on national, state and city politics with New York Times reporters during a visit to the newspaper’s offices in Los Angeles last week.

“If the intention was to get more moderate candidates, it’s been an abject failure,” Garcetti said. “That was the sell job.”

“People didn’t campaign to the center,” he said.

Under the jungle primary, candidates appear on a nonpartisan ballot in June; the top two finishers, regardless of party, face each other in November. Democrats in particular were worried that they would get shut out of November ballots for Congress because they had so many candidates competing for a set number of voters in some districts.

It ended up not happening, after Democrats poured millions of dollars into a handful of races. Republicans weren’t so lucky: The November contest for U.S. Senate is between two Democrats.

“It didn’t screw things up,” Garcetti said. “But it also didn’t accomplish what it said it would.”

And Garcetti argued that it did not make sense to have a nonpartisan election to choose candidates who would be serving in a highly polarized environment — like Washington. “The big choice in federal politics is between Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “That should be the choice for voters in the fall.”

Garcetti said the outcome meant the jungle primary would live another day. “It didn’t have those cases where two Republicans or two Democrats popped through in a seat held by the opposite party,” he said. “It would have needed that for people to say, ‘kill it today.’ But it runs the risk next time.”