What You Need to Know About California Primaries (News Analysis)

By Rob Richie, Executive Director, FairVote
Tuesday May 27, 2014 - 01:57:00 PM

California’s "top two" primary elections are next Tuesday, June 3rd. Turnout is expected to be very low despite the fact that every California voter can vote in every primary election and that voters have the option to vote early by mail or in person. 

Turnout has been poor in recent primary elections in California. In 2012, California hit a historic turnout low for a presidential primary, and in the last midterm elections in 2010, fewer than one in four (24%) eligible voters participated. We hope more Californians will try to reverse the downward spiral by exercising their right to vote. 

Making turnout all the more important is that, unlike much of the country, California holds ‘top-two’ primaries, in which all candidates run together regardless of party, and the top two advance to the general election.. Because the system restricts general election options for voters, primary election participation is all the more valuable.  

Vote-splitting and other unintended consequences of Top Two can unfortunately distort outcomes, as explained in our analysis of California’s system. FairVote advocates for opening both the primary and general elections by using a top-four primary with ranked-choice voting in the general election. This would mean nearly every general race would feature an intraparty contest as well as other parties or independents, thereby expanding voter choices. Better still would be to adopt fair representation voting -- see our proposed plan for the California legislature. 

You also can see our projections for U.S. House races in California and our proposal for fair representation reform on our California state profile, part of our national report and interactive map at Monopoly Politics 2014 and the Fair Voting Solution

Secretary of State candidate survey: Given that electoral reform is such a key issue in California, we'd urge particular attention to the open seat race for Secretary of State. You can see what nearly all the leading candidates have to say about ranked choice voting and other electoral reforms in a survey conducted by our reform allies at Californians for Electoral Reform. 

Election Facts: Here are key facts about the election. 

  • As noted above, California has a top-two primary system, so party affiliation is not required at registration with the exception of voting for partisan County Central Committees.
  • If you are not yet a registered voter, eligible voters can register register to vote online. The deadline to register for the upcoming primary election has passed, as you must register at least 15 days before an election, but eligible voters can register for the general election.
  • You can apply to vote-by-mail in California. Your application must be received no later than 7 days before Election Day. Otherwise, you can apply in person at your county elections office. Mail ballots must be received by the close of polls on Election Day.
  • You can vote early in person, as explained by the League of Women Voters of California.
  • The polls are open on Election Day from 7 AM to 8 PM. Find your polling place here.
  • To confirm what's on the ballot, we suggest that you contact your local county elections office, as additional races and measures may be on your local ballot. Find out more at the League of Women Voters page on how to vote.
For additional information on this year’s primaries around the nation, see the FairVote blog and state-by-state information on Open and Closed Primaries.