Primary Elections in California

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Flowchart: Voting in the June 7, 2016, Presidential Primary Election (PDF)

Since 2011, when the Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act went into effect, California has had two primary election systems in place:

Modified Closed Primary System for Presidential Elections

Under this system, voters who indicate a political party preference when they register to vote may participate in their party’s June presidential primary election and, if applicable, vote for members of that party’s County Central Committee or County Council.

Each political party has the option of also allowing people who registered to vote without stating a preference for a qualified political party to vote in their presidential primary election. A political party must notify the Secretary of State's office whether or not they will allow voters with no party preference to vote in their presidential primary election 135 days before the election. For the June 7 Presidential Primary Election, the following political parties will allow voters with no party preference to vote in their primary election for President of the United States:

  • American Independent Party
  • Democratic Party
  • Libertarian Party

If a voter wants to change his or her political party preference, he or she must reregister to vote. The registration deadline for the June election is May 23.

To check your current registration status and party preference, use the Voter Registration Lookup Tool.

Open Primary System for Voter-Nominated Offices

Under this system:

  • All candidates for a voter-nominated office are listed on the same ballot, regardless of the candidates’ party preferences, and 
  • Any voter may vote for any candidate, regardless of the voter’s party preference.

For example, for a voter-nominated office, a voter who indicated a preference for the Democratic Party when he or she registered may vote for a candidate whose preference is for the Republican Party.

Previously known as partisan offices, the voter-nominated offices are the state legislative offices, U.S. congressional offices, and state constitutional offices. For the June primary election, all voters, regardless of their party preference, can vote for the following voter-nominated offices:

  • United States Senator
  • United States Representative in Congress
  • State Senator
  • Member of the State Assembly

The two candidates who receive the most votes in the June primary election move on to the November general election, regardless of vote totals. This means that:

  • The two candidates who get the most votes for a voter-nominated office in the June primary election may have the same party preference (i.e., in the November general election, both candidates listed on the ballot for a voter-nominated office may have a preference for the Democratic Party).
  • Even if one candidate receives a majority of the votes (50 percent + 1) in the June primary election, he or she must run in the November general election against the candidate with the next-highest number of votes.
  • If there are only two candidates running in the June primary election for a voter-nominated office, a November general election is still required for that office.
  • A write-in candidate running in the June primary election can move on to the November general election only if he or she is one of the top two vote-getters in the June primary election.

In addition to the voter-nominated offices, any voter, regardless of his or her party preference, may vote in contests for nonpartisan offices and in favor of or against ballot measures. In the June election, all voters can vote in the following contests:

  • the nonpartisan office of Judge of the Superior Court
  • any state, local, or district ballot measures