McGeorge Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli






Today’s post is on some of the unique aspects of California’s electoral system.

As you know, there are nine constitutional offices that are elected statewide and 120 legislative offices. Constitutional officers run once every four years and are limited to running for a constitutional office two times. State Assemblymembers run every two years for reelection and State Senators run every four years. Under California’s current term limits law a legislator can serve a maximum of twelve years total in the Legislature – up to six terms in the Assembly, three terms in the Senate, or a combination of the two.

There are also judicial offices in California. There are two ways to be named a Superior Court judge – appointment by the Governor or to run for that office. At the appellate court level – Court of Appeal or California Supreme Court – judgeships are only done by gubernatorial appointment. However, these positions are subject to retention elections. This is opposed to federal judgeships, which are not elected and are lifetime appointments.

There are three significant measures that impact California’s electoral system and have done so over the last decade – the top two primary, the new term limits, and California’s independent redistricting committee.

Previously, the top vote getter from each party’s primary election would advance to face off in the November general election. That changed as part of a budget deal which placed the top two primary on the statewide ballot and was adopted by the voters. Under California’s current rules, the top two vote getters in the primary election proceed to the general election regardless of the political party affiliation of the candidates.

As a response to the self-proclaimed “Ayatollah of the Assembly,” Willie Brown, California voters enacted strict term limits in the 1990’s where Assemblymembers were restricted to a maximum of three two-year terms and Senators were restricted to two four-year terms. Such brief term limits meant legislators were constantly running for office which left major public policy issues unaddressed by legislators in a thoughtful manner. The new term limit law allows a maximum of twelve years of service to either house, or a combination of both houses.

Before California changed how legislative and Congressional seats are drawn, districts were drawn by the Legislature and a regular complaint was that incumbents and the majority party were protected. The issue of redistricting was taken to the voters in a ballot measure where voters approved a measure that places the job of drawing district boundaries for legislative, Congressional, and Board of Equalization seats in the hands of an independent commission, rather than legislators.