California’s nonpartisan, top-two primary (authored by the Independent Voter Project) sends the top two vote-getters in June to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation. Unlike the presidential primary, top-two allows more voters to participate in every statewide race (except presidential), even if they are not registered with a party, because it lists all candidates from all parties on a single ballot.
Under these primary rules, it’s important for voters who want a say in the California primary to get familiarized with the “down-ballot races” and the candidates who are participating in them. A "down-ballot" race denotes a contest for a political office that appears in a relatively low position on the electoral ballot, which typically lists contested offices in descending order from national to local.
As an example, look at Senate District 9 (SD 9). Senator Loni Hancock is leaving the California State Senate at the end of this term, opening her seat for the 2016 election.
SD 9 is comprised of the counties of Contra Costa and Alameda, from Rodeo in the north to San Leandro in the south, including Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Piedmont, Emeryville, Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo, Hercules, Kensington, and other communities.
There are currently four candidates running for Hancock’s seat: Former Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D), former Assemblyman Sandré Swanson (D), Katherine Welch (D), and the vice mayor of San Pablo, Richard Kinney (R).
In a district where 64 percent of the electorate are Democrats and only 7 percent are Republicans, the three-way split among the Democratic candidates may still not be enough to help Kinney make it past the June primary. As a result of the nonpartisan election, it is possible voters will have two Democrats to choose from in November.Richard Kinney has been endorsed by the California Republican Party, the Bay Area Regional Republican Caucus, and both Contra Costa and Alameda County Central Committees.
While SD 9 is a race with three Democrats running, it might be the Republican minority that tips the scale for one of the Democratic candidates in this election.
Sandré Swanson, a native from Oakland who has served three terms as a California Assembly member in the 16th District, has major endorsements backing him, including incumbent Loni Hancock, U.S. Rep Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), and Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond).
Swanson served 5 years as the chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee in D.C., advising on social and economic justice issues for the community. Lee considered him a “very valuable consult against war and for peaceful solution to world conflicts.”
As a member of the State Assembly, Swanson was well known for his leadership and efforts to rescue the victims of human trafficking, as well as his work on educational support for the youth.
Thurmond backs Swanson because of his work on sustainable jobs, and for troubled youth. Thurmond said,“Swanson’s record of standing up and fighting for our children, seniors, and working families is second to none.”
Swanson's supporters also include the California Teachers Association, California Legislative Black Caucus, BWOPA, and the California Nurses Association.
Nancy Skinner, former Assemblywoman for California's 15th Assembly District, has support from notable names like former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich (D) and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D). She is endorsed by the California Labor Federation – AFL-CIO, California League of Conservation Voters, and the Women’s Political Committee.
Reich applauded Skinner’s work in the Assembly and stated in a press release, “We need a fighter like Nancy Skinner in the State Senate.”
Skinner served 6 years in the State Assembly representing District 15. Her work focused on environmental issues, authoring legislation to increase solar energy use and improve home and business energy efficiency. She focused on education and scholarship programs as well.
Katherine Welch is challenging the race with less support than her more seasoned fellow Democrats. She is endorsed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, and Suzy Pak, a board member from the Lafayette School District.
On her campaign site, Katherine states that she is “a long-time leader with Educate Our State, a statewide organization of tens of thousands of parents and other community members committed to improving California’s public schools.”
In this competitive Democratic race, the endorsements of each candidate and their experience have the power to influence the results. It also helps voters understand the candidate’s allegiances and decide who will best represent their district.