Top-Two Open Primary Basics

About the Top-Two Open Primary System

On June 8, 2010, California voters passed Proposition 14, which created the “Top-Two Open Primary Act.” All candidates running for a voter-nominated office, regardless of their party preference, appear on all ballots in the primary election.  

Top-Two does not affect the election of President and County Central Committees, which are party-nominated contests.

Voter-nominated offices affected by Top-Two rules are:

  • Attorney General 
  • Board of Equalization
  • Controller
  • Governor
  • Insurance Commissioner
  • Lieutenant Governor
  • Secretary of State
  • State Assembly
  • State Senator
  • State Treasurer
  • U.S. Representative
  • U.S. Senator

How Top-Two Affects Elections

Top-Two requires that only the two candidates for voter-nominated offices who receive the highest number of votes cast at the primary shall appear on the November ballot. (Elec. Code § 8141.5)

Top-Two does not affect Presidential and County Central Committee elections. They are party-nominated contests governed by party rules.

What Top-Two Means for You

Voters can vote for any Top-Two candidate from any political party. In Gubernatorial election years, you will see all candidates for statewide office in the statewide primary, regardless of the candidate’s party affiliation. The two candidates receiving the most votes advance to the November general election.

In Presidential election years, Top-Two only applies to voter-nominated contests like U.S. Representative or State Assembly. In the primary election, you will receive a party specific ballot based on your current registration since the ballot also includes party-nominated contests. But you will still see all eligible candidates running in voter-nominated contests, regardless of your party affiliation.

How Top-Two Affects Write-In Candidates

You may write in a qualified write-in candidate’s name on the ballot in a primary election contest. In the general election, you may only write-in a qualified candidates name in a party-nominated contest. Write-in votes are not allowed in a voter-nominated contest in a general election.

How Top-Two Affects Nonpartisan Offices

Nonpartisan offices such as Judges, school board members, special districts, county officers, municipal officers, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction are open to all eligible voters.  As always, voters can vote for any candidates for nonpartisan offices in the primary. In "vote for one" contests, if one candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote, then that candidate is declared the winner and does not need to run again in the November general election. If no candidate in a "vote for one" contest receives a majority vote, then the top two vote getters will be placed on the November ballot.