The June 5 primary is like any other in one regard: Voters get to pick who will face off in the November election for state legislative and congressional races.
But that is where the similarities end. This time around, voters can choose anyone from the field, regardless of party affiliation. And all candidates will appear on all ballots. Gone is the day of having a one-party-only ballot.
So in races for state Assembly, Senate and Congress, Republicans can vote for Democrats, and vice versa. Green Party members can back their party’s nominees — or candidates from other parties.
In this open primary, the top-two finishers qualify for the November ballot, regardless of party. If a race has only two candidates, they automatically go forward to November in what amounts to a test run. As logical as it might be for a winner to be declared in a two-candidate primary, the law requires them to also be on the ballot in November, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office.
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“Everybody gets to vote for any candidate, and the two people who get first and second-most votes will move on to November, no matter what the party affiliation is,” San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald said.
The new process grew out of a deal struck by Abel Maldonado in 2009. Maldonado, then the Republican state senator representing the county, reached an agreement with Democrats that he would support their budget if they backed his open primary concept. The Legislature put Proposition 14 on the ballot in June of 2010, and voters approved it.
Now Maldonado is running as a Republican for Congress. He faces competition in the primary from another Republican, Chris Mitchum of Santa Barbara, an actor and a son of the late actor Robert Mitchum.
Also in the race for the newly drawn 24th District is Democrat Lois Capps, who has been in Congress since 1998 and has represented the coastal strip of the county. A fourth candidate is 26-year-old Matt Boutte of San Luis Obispo, a Cal Poly graduate now attending law school at Georgetown University. In the parlance of the open primary, Boutte has no party preference.
Presumably, the top two emerging from that field to the November election will be Capps and Maldonado, who have the most financing and name recognition.
But, theoretically, under the new system, if Maldonado and Mitchum finished as the top two, they would square off in November — even though they are both Republicans.
The open primary, combined with the new districts drawn by a citizens’ commission last year, are intended to help independent candidates win state office, said Dan Walters, the Sacramento Bee’s longtime politics columnist.
“The theory of the top-two system is that independents can weigh in, and in the aggregate, along with independent redistricting, the result will be a less polarized Legislature,” Walters said in an email response to a question. “It’s a two-pronged experiment, and we’ll have to see whether it has any appreciable effect on the Legislature’s efficacy.”
The only remaining partisan races are for U.S. president and county central committees. When it comes to the presidential race, voters can only cast ballots in the primary for their party’s candidate.
Everything else, though, is known as “voter-nominated” offices.
Write-in candidates can run for voter-nominated offices but only if they finish in the top two in the primary. According to the secretary of state, no write-ins can occur in the general election, except for president, local races such as city council, or central committees.
While Boutte is the example of an independent candidate in the race for Congress, there are no such contenders in the Assembly or Senate races.Katcho Achadjian, the Republican assemblyman from San Luis Obispo who represents the county, will square off against Democrat Gerald Manata, a part-time bus driver in Paso Robles.
In the race to replace state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, two candidates new to San Luis Obispo County voters will be on the ballot: Republican Larry Beaman, an insurance salesman and school board trustee in Scotts Valley near Santa Cruz, and Democratic Assemblyman Bill Monning of Carmel.
Blakeslee did not seek re-election because of how his district was redrawn. The 17th District now tilts heavily to the Democrats in party registration, giving Beaman a decided challenge heading into the fall.
The race on the June ballot with the most candidates, Rodewald said, is for the U.S. Senate. Incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein faces 23 other competitors, including Libertarian Gail Lightfoot of Arroyo Grande.
Rodewald says she can foresee some voters selecting more than one candidate in that race, given the large field. But voters can only make one choice per race, Rodewald said. Any more than that would disqualify that part of the ballot.
Early count start
County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald said there are 83,000 mail-in ballots requested for the June 5 primary — not a record number, but a good showing nonetheless, she said.
Her staff began on Thursday to open and ready ballots for counting, which was to start Friday.
Rodewald said she does not have a prediction on turnout. It could be down this year because there aren’t many races or compelling issues to attract voters. Locally, there are only two supervisor races and the City Council and mayor contests in Morro Bay. Just two state propositions are on the ballot.
Voters with questions about their ballot or precinct voting location can reach the clerk’s office at 781-5080 or visit www.slovote.com.