How Primaries are Conducted in California

In June of 2010, California voters approved Proposition 14 (The Top Two Open Primary Act). This amendment made many changes to how primaries are conducted in California.

Previously, there were only two types of offices, partisan and nonpartisan. Now, there are three types: party-nominated, voter-nominated and nonpartisan.

Below are the different types of offices that will appear on the ballot, who can vote in these races, and who advances to the November General Election.

Party-nominated Offices

  • Includes President and Central Committee offices
  • Only voters who have chosen a party preference may vote for their party's candidates*
  • The winner of each party's presidential primary will represent that party in the November General Election, when all voters, regardless of party preference, can vote for President.

Voter-nominated Offices

  • Includes Congressional and State offices
  • All voters, regardless of party preference, can vote for any candidate in these contests
  • The top two vote-getters, regardless of party preference, will advance to the November General Election

Nonpartisan Offices

  • Includes Judicial, School, County and City offices
  • All voters, regardless of party preference, can vote for any candidate on the ballot
  • For nonpartisan Judicial, County and some City offices, the top two vote-getters will proceed to the November General Election. However, if a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, that candidate is elected to office.
  • For School and most City offices, candidates that receive the most votes are elected to office.

* For this election, the American Independent, Democratic and Libertarian Parties are allowing voters who have not chosen a party preference to vote in their presidential primaries.

What's on Your Ballot

In the 2020 Presidential Primary Election, all voters will receive an Official Ballot. Depending on which voting precinct you reside in, the following contests and measures may appear on your ballot.

Party Ballot

Voters who have chosen a party preference with a qualified political party will receive a Party Ballot. It will include contests for:

  • Party-nominated offices
  • Voter-nominated offices
  • Nonpartisan offices
  • Ballot measures

Nonpartisan Ballot

Voters who have not chosen a party preference or who chose a party preference with an unqualified political party will generally* receive a Nonpartisan Ballot. It will not include a presidential contest. It will only include contests for:

  • Voter-nominated offices
  • Nonpartisan offices
  • Ballot measures

* These voters may request a party ballot from one of the three political parties that allow them to vote in their presidential primary contest.

How to Vote for President

It is important that you know how you can vote for president. Generally, voters must be registered with a qualified political party to vote in that party's 2020 Presidential Primary Election.

Therefore, if you are registered with any of the following qualified political parties, you can only vote for that party's presidential primary candidates:

  • American Independent Party
  • Democratic Party
  • Green Party
  • Libertarian Party
  • Peace and Freedom Party
  • Republican Party

If you are not registered with a qualified political party but want to vote for president in the primary, the following three qualified political parties have agreed to allow you to vote in their presidential primary contest. Therefore, you may request one of the following political party ballots:

  • American Independent Party
  • Democratic Party
  • Libertarian Party

To request one of these party ballots:

  • If you vote by mail, you may complete and return a mail ballot application or call (909) 387-8300 or (800) 881-VOTE (8683) by February 25.
  • If you vote at the polls, you may request this ballot when you check in at the polling place.

The Green, Peace and Freedom, and Republican Parties have chosen to only allow their party members to vote in their presidential primary contests. If you are not registered with a qualified political party but prefer to vote for a candidate in either the Green, Peace and Freedom, or Republican Party's presidential primary, you will need to re-register to vote and choose that political party as your party preference.

If you are registered with a qualified political party but want to vote in a different political party's presidential primary, you will need to re-register to vote and generally choose that political party as your party preference.

Visit registertovote.ca.gov to re-register to change your party.


For more information about how to vote for president, visit HowToVoteForPresident.sos.ca.gov.