Primary Elections

Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act

Three Types of Candidate Offices

1.  Party-Nominated Offices

President and County Central Committees are Party-Nominated Offices. Voters can vote only for the candidates of the same qualified political party (unless parties allow Nonpartisan voters to cross-over and join their primary. For President, the candidate chosen nationally by each party is placed on the general election ballot. For County Central Committees, the candidates who receive the most votes in the primary win outright.

2.  Voter-Nominated Offices

Governor

Treasurer

United State Senator

Lieutenant Governor​

​Attorney General

United State Representative

Secretary of State

Insurance Commissioner

State Senator

Controller

State Board of Equalization

​State ​Representative​

Under the Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act, all candidates running for Voter-Nominated Offices regardless of their party preference, will appear on the single combined ballot and voters can vote for any candidate from any political party.

The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act requires that only the two candidates for Voter-Nominated Offices who receive the highest and second-highest number of votes cast at the primary election shall appear on the ballot as candidates at the ensuing general election.

3.  Nonpartisan Offices

Nonpartisan Offices include the Superintendent of Public Instruction as well as Judicial Offices, County Offices, City of San Jose, and San Benito County Board of Education. A candidate's political party preference is not listed on the ballot and voters can vote for any candidate. In majority vote contests (at least 50% +1), candidates that receive a majority of the votes in the primary win outright. Otherwise, the top two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary move on to the general election.

Attachments

California Primary Election FAQs

    California’s primary election system has changed many times in the last few decades - from closed, to open, to modified to California’s existing primary system that is often called the “Top Two Primary.

    Simply stated, the Top Two Primary permits the two candidates who received the most votes in the primary election contest they were a candidate, regardless of political party, and will move on to the general election ballot that November. They were the “top two” vote getters selected by the voters who live in that elective district. The offices under the Top Two Primary are all state constitutional (Governor, Controller, Secretary of State, etc.) and state legislative offices (State Senate and Assembly), in addition to the offices of United States Representative in Congress and United States Senate.

    This latest method was approved by voters at the June 8, 2010 election (Proposition 14) and was first used in June 2012 to elect California’s state and federal representatives. During that year, California conducted two primary elections – the first was held in February for voters to select partisan candidates running for President and political party central committee, and the other was held in June for voters to choose from partisan candidates seeking state and federal offices selected under the Top Two Primary system.

    California’s primary also allows political parties to adopt rules ahead of the presidential primary election to permit No Party Preference voters (those who are not registered with a qualified political party) to cross-over and to vote a partisan ballot for President and county central committee offices. If you are registered with a qualified political party, you may vote only for the partisan candidates running for the office of President and county central committee from the party with which you are registered.

    Under California’s primary election system, voters will receive a ballot listing all qualified candidates for the contests they are eligible to vote based on where they live, including Governor and other state constitutional and legislative offices, regardless of political party affiliation.

    No Party Preference – another way of indicating nonpartisan. Formerly known as independent, nonpartisan, and decline to state. The term also includes everyone who is registered to vote with a political party that has not yet qualified for the ballot in California. To see a list of qualified political parties, or those attempting to qualify for the ballot in California, visit the Secretary of State’s website and find information on Political Parties listed under the tab “Registering to Vote.”

    In a presidential primary, you will be issued your party’s ballot, including your party’s candidates for the offices of President and county central committee, if any. Your ballot will also contain the names of candidates for partisan state offices (State Senate or Assembly), partisan federal offices (US Senate and Congress), non-partisan offices (such as local candidates for Superior Court Judge, Board of Supervisors, City Council) and state propositions and local measures for which you are eligible to vote based on where you live.

    The Registrar of Voters sends all NPP voters a postcard in advance of the presidential primary election, both informing the voter of the political parties that will allow them to cross over and vote in their primary election for President, and allowing you to opt to receive a ballot from any one of those parties. The Registrar of Voters will then mail you your Vote by Mail ballot in the political party of your choice, beginning 29-days prior to the election.

    This decision to allow NPP voters to cast a ballot in the political party’s primary is made by the political party 138-days before the primary. If allowed, the voter will receive a ballot containing the political party’s candidate(s) for President, in addition to the offices listed below.

    If you do not respond to the postcard, the ROV will send a NPP ballot containing the names of candidates for partisan state offices (all statewide offices, Senate, and Assembly), partisan federal offices (US Senate and Congress), non-partisan offices (such as local candidates for Superior Court Judge, Board of Supervisors, City Council) and state propositions and local measures for which you are eligible to vote based on where you live.

      You must register to vote with that particular political party. The deadline to register to vote and update your political party affiliation in California is 15-days prior to the election.  You can register to vote online or submit a paper Voter Registration Form to the Registrar of Voters.

      After the 15-day deadline to register to vote has passed, you may change your political party affiliation and obtain a new ballot by submitting a Voter Action Request Form. You may do this at any Vote Center in Santa Clara County or by visiting the Registrar of Voters. Under California’s primary election model, political party-specific ballots are only used during the presidential primary election for the offices of President and Party Central Committee.

      No. Under law, voters may only vote ONE ballot at each election.

      Yes, the voter must surrender or return the un-voted or spoiled ballot before the voter may request a replacement ballot or one of a different party.

      The Secretary of State’s Office

      Phone: 1-800-345-VOTE [8683]

      Website: www.ss.ca.gov

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