How Does a Primary Election Work?

A primary election lets the electorate choose the candidates for a general election from an available pool. A hotly debated issue is the top-two open primary, which does away with the need for voters’ party affiliation as determining factor for their eligibility to choose.

The Primary Election Process

How does a primary election work? Generally speaking, political offices are filled by either a republican or democratic candidate – although at times a third party candidate may be chosen – who is voted for by the electorate. These candidates are either nominated by their party or chosen by the voters during a primary election. This is usually the case when numerous candidates from the same party vie for the same post.

Closed vs. Open Primaries

A closed primary does not permit a republican voter to cast a ballot for a democratic candidate and vice versa. Unaffiliated voters do not have the option of voting for any candidate, which leads to a sometimes sizable change of party affiliations on Election Day.

Open primaries allow the entire electorate to cast a vote for a partisan political candidate, much like it is the case in a general election. Depending on whether the election is a nonpartisan blanket primary, which places all candidates on the ballot, or a traditional open primary, which allows voters to choose either a republican or democratic ballot, it is the great equalizer in American politics.

California Places the Top-Two Open Primary under the Microscope

Thus far the State of California has opted for the closed primary. Voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots in favor of Proposition 14, which hopes to increase thus far dismal voter participation by opening up the process across the board.

Political offices affected by the proposed top-two open primary include those of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, controller, insurance commissioner, attorney general, state senator, statement assembly member, state board of equalization member, United States senator and member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrats have the option of voting for a democrat, republican or independent. The same holds true for republicans or independents. Once the numbers are tallied, the two candidates with the highest number of votes – regardless of party affiliation – face each other in the general election.

Top-Two Open Primaries: Excellent Ideas or the Work of the Devil?

On the pro-side, an open primary allows the electorate to vote their conviction and pick the most qualified candidate for the job – not just the person the party is presenting to or a list of ‘lesser of two evil’ choices. On the downside, small party candidates – most notably independents – are barred from placing candidates on the ballot for general elections, since only the top two vote-getters will make it there.

With respect to California’s top-two open primary: the fact that write-in candidates are barred from being nominated for the general election (and the fact that candidates do not have to state a party affiliation) actually show this proposition to be another one from the bag of tricks the Golden State’s electorate has had enough of.

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