Top-Two Open Primary Explanation

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 This 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. (EC § 8141.5)

Top-Two does not affect the election of President and County Central Committees, which are party-nominated contests. Nonpartisan offices such as Judges, schools, special districts, municipalities, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction remain open to all eligible voters.


What this Means to 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 It 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.