IVP is most well-known for authoring California’s Proposition 14, the “Open Primary Initiative”, which was passed decisively by the voters in the June 2010 primary election. Proposition 14 created a single ballot primary system whereby all voters can vote for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation.
What is the Top-Two Open Primary Act?
In the June 2010 Primary Election, voters approved the “Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act” (the Open Primary Act) to protect and preserve the right of every Californian to vote for the candidate of his or her choice. The Open Primary Act changes the way individuals can become qualified candidates and how voters can vote for candidates in both the primary and general elections. The new rules were designed to empower California’s 3.8 million independent voters to participate fully in the primary process for the first time. This guide has been created by the Independent Voter Project, the authors of California’s Open Primary Act, to provide elected officials, potential candidates, the media, and the general public with information about the important changes to California election law that will be implemented in the June 2012 Primary Election as a result of the Open Primary Act.
New Rules and Terminology
Unrestricted right to vote. All registered voters otherwise qualified to vote are guaranteed the unrestricted right to vote for the candidate of their choice in all state and congressional elections.
Top two advance to general election. The top two candidates, as determined by the voters in an open primary, advance to a general election in which the winner will be the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes cast.
“Partisan offices” now “voter-nominated.” Offices that used to be known as “partisan offices” (state constitutional offices, U.S. Congress, and state legislative offi ces) are now known as “voter-nominated” offices.
Candidates on a single ballot. All candidates for a given state or congressional office are listed on a single primary ballot.
Registered party now a “preference.” Existing voter registrations, which previously specified a political party affiliation, are now considered a disclosure of that voter’s political party preference, unless a new affidavit of registration is filed.
“Affiliation” is now a “preference.” What used to be known as a “political party affiliation” is now known as a “political party preference.” *
Local elections are unaffected. The new law does not affect local elections, although it is very similar to California’s current nonpartisan system for local elections. The most significant difference is that in most local elections, if a candidate receives a majority of votes in a primary (50% + 1), he or she wins the election outright. Under the Top Two Open Primary, the two candidates with the highest and second highest vote totals move on to the general election regardless of what percentage of the vote they receive. This ensures that the winning candidate is selected in the November general election when the highest number of people vote.
*LEGAL NOTE: The change from “affiliation” to “preference” is important. Under the previous system these “affiliated” voters selected a party’s nominee to advance to the general election. Under the new open primary system, voters only indicate a “preference” for a party or “no preference.” Th e primary election selects the two individuals who receive the most votes. They advance to the general election, representing themselves, and are not considered a party nominee, even if they have indicated a party preference.
Offices Affected by the Open Primary Act
Secretary of State
Other State Officials
State Assembly Members*
State Board of Equalization
United States Senators*
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives
*Offices to appear on the June 5, 2012 Primary ballot
The Open Primary changes do not affect partisan primary elections for presidential candidates and political party offices (including party central committees, party officials, and presidential delegates).