Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

What is the top two primary and how does it work?

Californians voted to abolish traditional political party primaries and switch to a new top two primary system in 2010. Under the system being used today, legislative, congressional and constitutional office candidates of all political leanings, including independents who are registered without a party preference, will appear on the same primary ballot. The two candidates who receive the most votes will face off in November, regardless of their political party affiliation.

How will this affect the November ballot?

Voters in some districts could find themselves choosing between two Democrats or two Republicans in November, a dynamic supporters of the new system say could force candidates to move to the center to pick up more votes. At least one runoff statewide will include a "no party preference" candidate. Write-in votes are no longer permitted in the general election.

Can I vote for more than one candidate in the primary?

No. You can only vote for one candidate in each race.

What happens if one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary?

Both that candidate and the runner up will still be on the November ballot. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary, regardless of party preference, will advance to the general election runoff.

What about the presidential race?

The top two primary does not apply to the presidential race. Those contests are still party nominations. Only the Democratic Party and the American Independent Party allow voters from outside their party to participate in their presidential primaries. If you are an independent voter (now called "no party preference"), you can request a presidential election ballot from one of those parties. The top-two system also does not apply to local races or partisan central committee contests.

The district number/incumbent on my ballot has changed since the last election. Why?

Today is also the first primary conducted using California's new political maps. Legislative and congressional seats were redrawn last year as part of the decennial redistricting process, when districts are updated based on the population count released as part of the U.S. Census. In some cases, incumbents saw their districts change dramatically, with turf added or removed. Others moved to run in an open, newly-drawn seat. This year's maps were drawn for the first time by an independent commission, a change also ordered by voters through the initiative process. In the past, the Legislature controlled the fate of the lines, a power critics said favored incumbents.

Where can I find my polling place?

At this link.

Can I still put my absentee ballot in the mail?

Your ballot will not arrive in time if you send it today. You can drop it off at your polling site.

More resources and related links:

How to vote: California's June 5 presidential primary FAQ

The Sacramento Bee's online voter guide

Interactive map: See your new California legislative and congressional districts

More Election 2012 coverage


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