IVN News

How to Vote in the 2016 Election: Everything You Need to Know by State


GENERAL ELECTION DATE: November 8, 2016

How do I vote? The following voter guide is tailored to provide vital information for the 2016 elections. All 435 seats in the House of Representative and 33 seats in the U.S. Senate are up for election. However, voting in each state has different rules and regulations for how representatives are elected. Check with your state to find out the following:

  • Your state’s primary election date
  • Your state’s primary electoral system, and whether or not you can participate in the voting process
  • How to register to vote. And, how do I vote?
  • Important deadlines this election cycle
  • Campaign finance laws and records in your state
  • Voter statistics in your state

Your Secretary of State website is also linked whether you can look for additional information on elections and election laws.

Click YOUR State for Important Electoral Information

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Online Voter Registration available

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

*Presumed date

*Online voter registration available 

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available 

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

  • PRIMARY ELECTION DATE: August 13, 2016
  • Congressional Primary Electoral System: Open Partisan (No party affiliation at registration, but party ballot must be selected at primary
  • Presidential Primary Electoral System: Open Partisan

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available 

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available 

Secretary of State website

*Presumed date

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

*Presumed date

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

*Presumed date

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

*Presumed date

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Presumed date

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Presumed date

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Presumed date

*Online voter registration

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

*Presumed date

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Presumed date

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

*Online voter registration available

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

Secretary of State website

The purpose of a primary is the most important, yet often overlooked factor in the construct of a primary election. The purpose of a primary election is defined by one of two fundamental characteristics: (1) Partisan, or (2) Non-partisan. “When we interpret the meaning of statutes, our fundamental task is to ascertain the aim and goal of the lawmakers so as to effectuate the purpose of the statute.” (McAllister v. California Coastal Com. (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 912, 928, 87 Cal.Rptr.3d 365.) The following illustrates the difference between California’s old partisan primary and new “Top-Two” non-partisan primary systems.

(1) Partisan

Partisan primaries come in many forms, depending on the access and ballot options (discussed below) a voter is afforded. A partisan primary election is best conceived as individual elections conducted at the same time for each qualified political party.

Partisan primaries are practiced in 47 of 50 states. However, regardless of these peculiarities, partisan primaries always serve the same private purpose: The purpose of a partisan primary is for members of political parties to nominate candidates for the general election and elect party officers. see e.g. California Democratic Party, 530 U.S. at 572-73.

Because partisan elections are conducted for a private purpose, a party’s private right of association always attaches. Unsurprisingly, our cases vigorously affirm the special place the First Amendment reserves for, and the special protection it accords, the process by which a political party “select[s] a standard bearer who best represents the party’s ideologies and preferences.” Eu, supra, at 224, 109 S.Ct. 1013 California Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U.S. 567, 575, 120 S. Ct. 2402, 2408, 147 L. Ed. 2d 502 (2000)

It is a state-granted right and must be balanced with an individual voter’s fundamental right to vote. The rights of party members may to some extent offset the importance of claimed conflicting rights asserted by persons challenging some aspect of the candidate selection process. Nader v. Schaffer, 417 F. Supp. 837, 845 (D. Conn. 1976) aff’d, 429 U.S. 989, 97 S. Ct. 516, 50 L. Ed. 2d 602 (1976).

(2) Non-partisan

Non-partisan primaries serve a public purpose. Non-partisan primaries have a singular form with respect to the access and options an individual voter is afforded. A non-partisan primary is conducted as one election, where all voters and candidates participate in a single primary election using a single ballot. While non-partisan primaries can vary in form based on other particularities (such as “Top-Two” or “Top-Four”), for purposes of the legal considerations in this case, our inquiry will be limited to the general purpose.

The purpose of a primary election under California law, for example, “is to provide the machinery for the selection of candidates to be voted for in the ensuing general election.” Field v. Bowen, CA Sup. Ct. decided Sept. 20, 2013 citing Cummings v. Stanley, 177 Cal. App. 4th 493, 510, 99 Cal. Rptr. 3d 284, 297 (2009) Non-partisan primaries do not need to be qualified by the defining characteristics of access and options, because the access to all nonpartisan primaries is open and the ballots are necessarily a blanket style.

In other words, voters must have the option to vote for any candidate, regardless of office or partisan considerations. Therefore, nonpartisan primaries are always Open, Blanket, and conducted for a nonpartisan public purpose: The [Washington nonpartisan primary] law never refers to the candidates as nominees of any party, nor does it treat them as such. To the contrary, the election regulations specifically provide that the primary “does not serve to determine the nominees of a political party but serves to winnow the number of candidates to a final list of two for the general election.” Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party, 552 U.S. 442, 453, 128 S. Ct. 1184, 1192, 170 L. Ed. 2d 151 (2008).

The term closed refers to the inability of a voter to participate in the nomination of party candidates unless they are registered members of that party. The closed primary has been challenged in a few states based on the theory that a voter’s fundamental right to vote under the 14th amendment should not be conditioned on that voter giving up their 1st amendment right not to affiliate with a political party. “Given the state’s interest in protecting the associational rights of party members and in preserving the integrity of the electoral process, the state may legitimately allow political parties to close their primaries to nonmembers.” Ziskis v. Symington, 47 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 1995)

Courts have held that closed primaries are Constitutional, despite the fact that a voter’s participation in the primary is conditional. The fatal flaw in each case is the remedy requested: to open the primaries. This wouldn’t be such a fatal flaw if the Courts (and the Plaintiffs) didn’t assume that the primary system had to be a partisan one. The comparative merits of various forms of primary election systems have been widely debated in this presidential election year. In particular, the “open” and “crossover” primaries, which permit independents and/or members of other parties to participate in a given party’s primary, have been the subject of controversy. Nader v. Schaffer, 417 F. Supp. 837, 849 (D. Conn. 1976)aff’d, 429 U.S. 989, 97 S. Ct. 516, 50 L. Ed. 2d 602 (1976) Note, in the opinion above, the court compares the “merits of various forms of primary election systems,” without considering the merits of a nonpartisan system.

All references refer to systems designed for the purpose of selecting party nominees. The rights of party members may to some extent offset the importance of claimed conflicting rights asserted by persons challenging some aspect of the candidate selection process. 525 F.2d at 588; see also Cousins v. Wigoda, supra, 419 U.S. at 487, 95 S.Ct. 541. More importantly, party members are entitled to affirmative protection of their associational rights, see Note, 27 Rutgers L.Rev. 298 (1974). Nader v. Schaffer, 417 F. Supp. 837, 845 (D. Conn. 1976) aff’d, 429 U.S. 989, 97 S. Ct. 516, 50 L. Ed. 2d 602 (1976)

Because open partisan primaries are themselves unconstitutional (see supra), a challenge to closed primaries would have a greater likelihood if the remedy requested was an open nonpartisan primary. In evaluating the State’s interests, the Supreme Court noted that the First Amendment infringement [that results from the conflicting interests in a partisan primary] could be avoided by “resorting to a nonpartisan blanket primary… (dicta in Democratic Party v. Jones).

Semi-closed refers to a partisan primary system in which a political party has the option, but not obligation, to allow or disallow non-members to participate. In California, for example, the election for all offices are conducted as nonpartisan “top-two” primaries, except for the office of President, which is held as a semi-closed primary.

Semi-closed primaries have withstood Constitutional muster, despite the fact that an individual voter’s rights are conditioned on a party allowing him or her to participate. The First Amendment reserves a special place, and accords a special protection, for that process, Eu, supra, at 224, 109 S.Ct. 1013, because the moment of choosing the party’s nominee is the crucial juncture at which the appeal to common principles may be translated into concerted action, and hence to political power, Tashjian, supra, at 216, 107 S.Ct. 544. California Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U.S. 567, 568, 120 S. Ct. 2402, 2404, 147 L. Ed. 2d 502 (2000)

The term open refers to the ability of a voter to choose a ballot of his or her choice. An “open partisan primary” can, itself, have a number of variations. However, for purposes of Constitutional analysis, we should consider the term “open,” to refer to any primary where a political party cannot prevent non-members from voting for their candidates.

The Courts have held that open partisan primaries violate a political party’s first amendment right of association. In sum, [an open primary] forces petitioners to adulterate their candidate-selection process—the “basic function of a political party,” ibid.—by opening it up to persons wholly unaffiliated with the party. Such forced association has the likely outcome—indeed, in this case the intended outcome— of changing the parties’ message. We can think of no heavier burden on a political party’s associational freedom. California Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U.S. 567, 581-82, 120 S. Ct. 2402, 2412, 147 L. Ed. 2d 502 (2000).

All nonpartisan primaries are necessarily open, see supra. While partisan open primaries have met ill fate in the Courtroom, open nonpartisan primaries have withstood Constitutional scrutiny. This is because nonpartisan schemes avoid the parties’ 1st Amendment concerns. The Supreme Court stated that under such a system, ‘a State may ensure more choice, greater participation, increased privacy and sense of fairness – all without severely burdening a political party’s First Amendment right of association.” (dicta in Democratic Party v. Jones).

Currently, three states have nonpartisan top-two primary elections (California, Washington, Louisiana). All voters receive the same ballot for the primary regardless of party affiliation and can vote for whoever the voter wishes.

The top-two vote-earning candidates move on to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. It is possible for two members of the same party to face each other in the general election. But by allowing all voters to participate in the selection process from primary to general, candidates are hoped to be more accountable to the electorate and less accountable to a partisan base.

In Louisiana, a candidate who receives 50%+1 in the primary election immediately wins the race and will not have to run in the general. READ: “Nonpartisan Primaries and Redistricting Are Reshaping California Policy” by Cadee Condit Gray Check out Independent Voter Project for their work on advancing Top-Two Primaries.

A top-four nonpartisan primary operates the same as a top-two nonpartisan primary, but of course the four candidates with the most votes move on to the general election.

IVN contributor Steve Krabbe explained why this could be a better system: Independents and third-parties will gain more popularity in time because the two major parties will become more polarized through the closed primary and lose the voters outside of that idealism. But, the two major parties benefit by not having to alienate their base before entering the open top-two primary, where they will still retain the votes of unregistered party loyalists. Voters end up with more choices that represent more of the political spectrum. This will be reinforced if all of the candidates are allowed to participate in debates before the top-two primary.

READ: “Making Nonpartisan Primaries Better: Modifying the Top-Two Selection Process” by Steve Krabbe

READ: “A Top-Four Primary is Better for California, FairVote Says” by Lucas Eaves

Check out FairVote for their work on advancing Top-Four Primaries.

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is aimed at encouraging candidates to reach out to a broader constituency and can work in both partisan and nonpartisan elections. In this voting system, voters are allowed to rank candidates in order of preference. They are not required to rank all the candidates and their rankings will not harm their most preferred candidate at any stage. A series of automatic runoffs occur using voter preference.

Here is how IRV works: [I]f a majority is achieved on the first count, the election is over and the majority candidate wins outright. However, if that is not the case, the candidate who receives the fewest first choice rankings is eliminated. Then, all ballots are re-tabulated, with each ballot counting for one vote for the highest-ranked candidate who has not been eliminated. Therefore, voters who had the last place candidate now have their votes count toward their second choice. The weakest candidates are eliminated successively, with each new tabulation including their next choice that is listed. Once the field is reduced to two, the candidate with the majority will win the election. – FairVote

READ: Top Two Open Primary vs. Instant Run-Off: which is the best way forward for nonpartisan elections? by Greg Lucas

Check out FairVote for their work on advancing Instant Run-off Voting.

Approval Voting is simple: Just pick as many candidates as you like. There’s no ranking or anything complicated. Then the candidate with the most votes wins. Approval Voting is identical to Plurality except that when you choose more than one candidate, your ballot is still valid. Plurality, on the other hand, throws your ballot away. READ: Approval Voting Breaks Duverger’s Law: Gives Voters More Options by Aaron Hamlin Check out Center for Election Sciences for their work on Approval Voting

Vote USA: Custom sample ballots using voter’s address with side-by-side comparisons of candidates’ pictures, bios, social links and positions and views on the issues.

Ballotpedia: A nonprofit, nonpartisan collaborative encyclopedia designed to connect people to politics and elections at the local, state and federal level. A full encyclopedia of elections and ballot measures. Competitive elections analysis is also available on Ballotpedia.

U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Clerk: The Clerk of the House collects and publishes the official vote counts for federal elections from the various states and territories.

U.S. Senate, Virtual Election Reference Desk: A clearinghouse of voting information on the Web and guides to resources in libraries and archives, including the Bibliography of Resources on Elections and Political Parties.

Federal Election Commission: The Federal Election Commission (FEC) administers and enforces the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) – the statute that governs the financing of federal elections.

U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC): The EAC was established by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 and is an independent, bipartisan commission charged with developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements.

American National Election Studies: The American National Election Studies (ANES) produces data on voting, public opinion, and political participation to serve the research needs of social scientists, teachers, students, policy makers and journalists.

Congressional Quarterly Electronic Library: Provides data, analysis, explanations, and historical material on U.S. voting and elections as well as information on voters, demographics, political parties and campaigns.

The George Washington University, Gelman Library Election Statistics Reference Guide: This guide lists recommended sources of statistical information on U.S. elections.

Maps and Cartograms of Election Results (University of Michigan): This site provides a series of maps to display election results.

Project Vote Smart: A non-profit, non-partisan research organization that collects and distributes information on candidates for public office in the United States.

Unicon Research Corporation: Unicon produces a set of extraction software that provides access to over 40 years of data from the Current Population Survey – including the Voting and Registration Supplements – along with documentation and original survey questionnaires.