Structuring Good Representation: Institutional Design and Elections in California
by Sara Sadhwani, University of Southern California, and Jane Junn, University of Southern California
In this article, we examine elections and representation within the context of recently enacted institutional reforms in California, a state among the most racially and ethnically diverse in the nation. Within the last two decades, California enacted several reforms relevant to elections and representation, including the adoption of a top-two primary where the two candidates with the largest number of votes are placed on the general election ballot regardless of political party, as well as the creation of a non-partisan redistricting commission that is separate from the legislature and instead is run by ordinary citizens, and term limits for state legislators. Such changes in conjunction with rapid demographic shifts toward racial and ethnic diversity in the population and the electorate have propelled California’s composition of representatives in the US Congress and the California State Legislature closer toward parity of racial and ethnic representation. In this article we will examine changes in the racial and ethnic composition of the California legislature before and after these changes were implemented.
We do so from the explicit normative position that in a representative democracy with a diverse polity such as the United States, it is desirable to increase the inclusion of underrepresented minorities. This perspective is consistent with scholars who have asserted that the inclusion of underrepresented voices lies at the heart of quality considerations of democracy (Young 2000; Wolbrecht and Hero 2005; Dovi 2009). To that end, we should be skeptical when democratic institutions fall short of being descriptively and substantively representative of marginalized groups and instead consider what alternative structures might allow for broader incorporation.