The Lowdown


Top-Two Primary Election: How’s That Work Again?

The "top-two" primary will be tested in a California state-wide election for the first time in June. Illustration: Getty Images

If you open your Sample Ballot for the June 5 primary election, you’ll find a big difference.

Take the race for the U.S. Senate: Instead of a roster of candidates for the one political party to with you belong, you’ll see all 24 candidates in a big long list (including 14 Republicans, 6 Democrats, 2 Peace and Freedom, 1 American Independent and 1 Libertarian). Even if you don’t have a party affiliation, you can now vote in the primary.

Pick your one choice from that long list. The two candidates who get the most votes will go to the general election in November.

KQED’s education blog, The Lowdown, explains it right here.

Once you understand how to vote using the new system, you may want to know more about how it’s going to change California politics. KQED’s Forum devoted an hour to the topic earlier this week. It was a lively — even heated — debate.

Former California Democratic legislator Steve Peace is the co-chairman of the California Independent Voter Project, which authored the Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act. He thinks the new primary system is good for Democracy:

Bottom line is, open primary means competition. Competition means a healthier system…. Seventy-three percent of Californians say that partisanship is at the root of our problems. (Yet) we’re run by the other 27 percent.

But Jon Fleischman, a GOP strategist and publisher of, a website on California politics, hates it:

As I watch the practical application of Proposition 14, the amount of money that it takes to compete now is just absolutely staggering and stunning. The effect of that is that I’m watching the special interests from Sacramento, whether it’s the labor unions on the Democrat side, whether it’s certain business PACs on the Republican side or certain major donors are now weighing in and coming into these districts and they’re going to cherry pick the candidates.

You can hear the entire show right here: