What voters should know before casting votes in California primary elections

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Valley News/Courtesy photo

California primary elections are fast approaching, and a slew of critical races are on the March 3 ballot, including a special election to fill California’s 28th Senate District vacated by Jeff Stone, who accepted position with the U.S. Department of Labor as the western regional director.

Stone was appointed to the position by President Donald Trump in October, leaving his seat in the Senate vacant and up for grabs. California 67th District Assemblymember and Lake Elsinore resident Melissa Melendez, along with real estate broker John Schwab of Temecula and Palm Springs resident Joy Silver, who came within 3.1 percentage points of beating out Stone for the seat in 2018, are all jockeying for election to the seat.

But unlike a standard election, where the top two vote getters in the primary move on to the November ballot, since the election was called for to fill that vacant seat, if any of the candidates takes more than 50% of the vote, the candidate then becomes the representative of the district, according to the California Secretary of State’s website, www.sos.ca.gov/elections/.

“Only candidates running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction or candidates for voter-nominated offices in special elections can win outright by getting a majority of the vote, 50% plus 1, in the primary election,” according to the website.

Special elections are not the only elections to fall under the “50% plus 1” rule. County supervisors also fall under the rule and in the March primary, both Riverside County Board of Supervisors District 1 and District 3 are up for election, with incumbents Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington running for reelection for their respective districts.

In District 1, Jeffries will face off against business members Debbie Walsh and Melissa Bourbonnais, a Riverside County Sheriff’s Department correctional officer.

In District 3, Washington squares off against small-business owner Joe Scarafone, Marine and graduate student Courtney Sheehan, retired peace officer Mike Juarez and Anza resident and ESL instructor Edison Gomez-Krauss.

Like the California Senate District 28 election if a candidate in either of the supervisor races takes 50% plus 1 of the vote, they win the office.

It should be noted that for all three races, Riverside County Supervisor District 1 and 3 and the Senate District 28 race, if no candidate receives the 50% plus 1 of the vote, the top two vote getters will move on to the November general election.

Voter-nominated races

According to the California Secretary of State website, The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act, which took effect Jan. 1, 2011, created “voter-nominated” offices. The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act does not apply to candidates running for U.S. President, county central committees or local offices.

Most of the offices that were previously known as “partisan” are now known as “voter-nominated” offices. Voter-nominated offices are state constitutional offices, state legislative offices and U.S. congressional offices. The only “partisan offices” now are the offices of U.S. president and county central committee.

Races for voter nominated offices affecting the Valley News and Anza Valley Outlook coverage areas include U.S. Representative for the 36th District, U.S. Representative 42nd District, U.S. Representative 50th District, State Assembly 42nd District, State Assembly 67th District, State Assembly 71st District and State Assembly 75th District.

During the March primaries, all candidates for voter-nominated offices are listed on one ballot and only the top two vote-getters in the primary election – regardless of party preference – move on to the general election. Write-in candidates for voter-nominated offices can only run in the primary election. A write-in candidate will only move on to the general election if the candidate is one of the top two vote-getters in the primary election.

The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act does not apply to candidates running for U.S. President, county central committee or local office. Also of note, the top two vote-getters move on to the general election regardless of party preference or whether one candidate receives a majority of all votes cast in the primary election.

Presidential primaries

According to the California Secretary of State, qualified political parties in California may hold presidential primaries in one of two ways, either a closed presidential primary or a modified-closed presidential primary.

In a closed presidential primary, only voters indicating a preference for a party may vote for that party’s presidential nominee.

In a modified-closed presidential primary, the party also allows voters who did not state a party preference to vote for that party’s presidential nominee.

Voters who registered to vote without stating a political party preference are known as No Party Preference voters. For information on NPP voters voting in a presidential primary election, visit www.sos.ca.gov/elections/political-parties/no-party-preference/.

Important notes on California primaries

Regardless of the size of the candidate pool, the top two vote-getters move on to the general election regardless of party preference, or whether one candidate receives the majority of all votes cast in the primary election. Only candidates running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction or candidates for voter-nominated offices in special elections can win outright by getting a majority of the vote, 50% plus 1, in the primary election.

Candidates running for a voter-nominated office cannot run in the general election without having been one of the top two vote-getters in the primary election.

Candidates running for the office of U.S. president, however, can run in the general election as either a presidential elector using the independent nomination process or a presidential elector write-in candidate.

Independent or write-in candidates for voter-nominated offices cannot run in the general election.

All candidates, including candidates who would have used the former independent nomination process, are allowed to run for a voter-nominated office in a primary election. All primary candidates for an office are listed on a single ballot, and only the two candidates who get the most votes in the primary election will move on to the general election, according to the Secretary of State website.

“Write-in candidates for voter-nominated offices can still run in the primary election. However, a write-in candidate can only move on to the general election if the candidate is one of the top two vote-getters in the primary election,” according to the website.

Candidates running for the office of U.S. president, however, can run in the general election as either a presidential elector using the independent nomination process or a presidential elector write-in candidate.

Kim Harris can be reached by email at valleyeditor@reedermedia.com.