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Changes to California's Election System

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On June 8, 2010, California voters approved Proposition 14, which created a “top two” or “open” primary election system. The passage of this proposition changed how the primary elections are conducted for state constitutional offices, state legislative offices, and U.S. congressional offices, all of which are now called “voter-nominated offices.” The changes also affect general elections for these offices.

For the 2012 elections, the affected offices are: 

  • United States Senator, 
  • United States Representative, 
  • State Senator, and 
  • Member of the State Assembly.

The change to an open primary election system does not affect how the elections for U.S. President, county central committees, or local offices are conducted.

1. What does this mean for voters?

In the primary election for a voter-nominated office:

  • All candidates, regardless of their party preference, appear on a single ballot, and voters can vote for any candidate.
  • Voters may vote for a qualified write-in candidate who is not listed on the ballot.

In the general election for a voter-nominated office: 

  •  Only the two candidates who received the most votes in the primary election—regardless of party preference—move on to the general election. 
  •  Write-in candidates are not permitted, but, if a qualified write-in candidate was one of the two candidates who received the most votes in the primary election, his or her name will be printed on the general election ballot. 
  •  There is no independent nomination process.  

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2. What does party information mean on the general election ballot?

For “party-nominated offices,” the party label accompanying the name of a candidate means that the candidate is the official nominee of the party shown. The contest for President and Vice President is the only party-nominated office on this general election ballot.

For “voter-nominated offices,” if a candidate has a preference for a qualified political party, the party will be printed by the candidate’s name on the ballot. If a candidate does not have a preference for a qualified political party, “Party Preference: None” will be printed by the candidate’s name. “Party preference” refers to the political party with which the candidate or the voter is registered. The candidate’s party preference does not imply that the candidate is endorsed by that party. Political parties may endorse candidates for voter-nominated offices; any party endorsements received by the Department of Elections by the submission deadline are listed in the Voter Information Pamphlet.  

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3. How can I find out with which party I am registered?

To find out if you are registered to vote, use the online voter registration look-up, or call the Department of Elections at 415-554-4375.

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4. How can I change my party preference or other registration information?

To change your registration in time for this election, you must complete and submit a voter registration card by October 22, 2012. Your options are:

  • re-register online at
  • re-register in person at the Department of Elections in City Hall, Room 48, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 
  •  pick up a voter registration card at any Post Office, San Francisco Public Library branch, or Department of Motor Vehicles office, or 
  •  request that a voter registration card be mailed to you by contacting the Department of Elections through, or calling 415-554-4375.  

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5. Where can I find more information about elections in California?

For more information, please refer to the ”Elections in California” page in the Official Voter Information Guide, produced by the California Secretary of State, or visit

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Last updated: 10/16/2012 3:13:22 PM