Primary Elections in California



What is a voter-nominated office?

The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act, which took effect January 1, 2011, created "voter-nominated" offices. The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act does not apply to candidates running for U.S. President, county central committees, or local offices.

Most of the offices that were previously known as "partisan" are now known as "voter-nominated" offices. Voter-nominated offices are state constitutional offices, state legislative offices, and U.S. congressional offices. The only "partisan offices" now are the offices of U.S. President and county central committee.

How are primary elections conducted in California?

All candidates for voter-nominated offices are listed on one ballot and only the top two vote-getters in the primary election – regardless of party preference - move on to the general election. A write-in candidate will only move on to the general election if the candidate is one of the top two vote-getters in the primary election.

Prior to the Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act, the top vote-getter from each qualified political party, as well as any write-in candidate who received a certain percentage of votes, moved on to the general election.

The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act does not apply to candidates running for U.S. President, county central committee, or local office.

How are presidential primary elections conducted in California?

Qualified political parties in California may hold presidential primaries in one of two ways:

If a qualified political party chooses to hold a modified-closed presidential primary, the party must notify the California Secretary of State no later than the 135th day before Election Day.

The Democratic and American Independent parties notified the Secretary of State that they will allow voters who did not state a political party preference to vote the presidential ballot of their parties in the upcoming June 5, 2012, Presidential Primary Election. Their notifications can be found in CC/ROV Memorandum #12039.

What do party preferences mean when listed with candidates' names on the ballot? What are the qualified political parties and abbreviations of those party names?

The term "party preference" is now used in place of the term "party affiliation." A candidate must indicate his or her preference or lack of preference for a qualified political party. If the candidate has a qualified political party preference that qualified political party will be indicated by the candidate's name on the ballot. If a candidate does not have a qualified political party preference, "Party Preference: None" will be indicated by the candidate's name on the ballot.

Similarly, voters who were previously known as "decline-to-state" voters (because they did not have a party affiliation) are now known as having "no party preference" or known as "NPP" voters.

Abbreviations for the qualified political parties are:

If a candidate receives a majority of the vote (50 percent+1) in the primary election, will there still be a general election?

Yes. The top two vote-getters move on to the general election regardless of party preference or whether one candidate receives a majority of all votes cast in the primary election. Only candidates running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction or candidates for voter-nominated offices in special elections can win outright by getting a majority of the vote (50 percent + 1) in the primary election.

If there are only two candidates in the primary election, is a general election required?

Yes. The top two vote-getters move on to the general election regardless of candidate pool size, party preference, or whether one candidate receives the majority of all votes cast in the primary election. Only candidates running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction or candidates for voter-nominated offices in special elections can win outright by getting a majority of the vote (50 percent + 1) in the primary election.

Which candidates can still run in the general election?

Candidates running for a voter-nominated office cannot run in the general election without having been one of the top two vote-getters in the primary election (see "What is a voter-nominated office?" above).

Candidates running for the office of U.S. President, however, can run in the general election as either a Presidential Elector using the independent nomination process or a Presidential Elector write-in candidate.

For more information about running for office, see Candidate Resources.

Can independent or write-in candidates for voter-nominated offices run in the general election?

No. All candidates, including candidates who would have used the former independent nomination process, are allowed to run for a voter-nominated office in a primary election. All primary candidates for an office are listed on a single ballot, and only the two candidates who get the most votes in the primary election will move on to the general election.

Write-in candidates for voter-nominated offices can still run in the primary election. However, a write-in candidate can only move on to the general election if the candidate is one of the top two vote-getters in the primary election.

Candidates running for the office of U.S. President, however, can run in the general election as either a Presidential Elector using the independent nomination process or a Presidential Elector write-in candidate.


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