Ballots are being mailed out this week, and California’s March 5 primary election is officially underway.
That’s right. You can vote — and mail it in (no postage necessary) — as soon as you get yours. There are just some weird rules to keep in mind on who you can vote for and how — especially at the top of the ticket. Here’s a primer.
Q. What’s on the ballot?
A. Voters will choose presidential candidates — depending on your party — and narrow down crowds of contenders to a final two to succeed the late Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate and veterans Anna Eshoo and Barbara Lee in the House of Representatives. And there’s a multibillion-dollar mental health bond measure and countless local school bonds to decide and municipal offices to fill.
“Early voting starts on Feb. 5, the day we begin mailing out vote-by-mail ballots,” said Steve Goltiao, a communications officer with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.
Q. Will former President Donald Trump be on my ballot?
A. Only if you’re registered as a Republican — which you can do just for the primary. Quirks in California’s primary election system mean there are some special rules for voting at the top of the ticket that you’ll want to pay special attention to. Political parties may restrict voting for their presidential nominees and central committee members to their registered voters, the way it was done in the old days.
Q. What if I’m registered but not with any political party?
A. If you’re among the more than 1 in 5 California voters registered with no party preference, the ballot you receive will have no presidential nominees listed for you to choose from.
The Democratic, Libertarian and American Independent parties do allow “crossover” voting by “no party preference” voters — but not by those registered with other parties. No-party voters may request a Democratic, Libertarian or American Independent crossover ballot from their local elections office to vote for those candidates without registering with their parties.
No-party voters who want to vote for the Republican, Green or Peace and Freedom party presidential candidates, however, must register with one of those parties to get their ballots. For those asking about Robert F. Kennedy Jr., he’s running as an independent and looking to be listed on November ballots.
Q. What about those hot races for Congress?
A. Everyone gets to vote in those — regardless of your party. For partisan congressional and state races, candidates of all political stripes will appear on ballots. And because California’s “top two” primary system adopted in 2011 is in play, voters can choose among all party candidates, with the two who get the most votes March 5 advancing to the November election, even if they’re from the same party.
Q. What else do I have to study up on?
A. Candidates for local races as well as state and local measures also will appear on ballots. For local races, a candidate can win the seat outright with more than half the vote in the primary, otherwise, the two top finishers face off in November.
A few places in California including San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro have adopted “ranked choice” voting in which voters rank their choices among candidates and a winner is determined from that election. Alameda County has only one ranked choice office to fill, for Oakland auditor, and there is only one candidate.
Q. So what do you need to do to vote?
A. Make sure you are registered. Not sure? You can check with the Secretary of State’s office online at RegisterToVote.ca.gov. If you are not, or want to change your registration, you can do it online through Feb. 20 at that same online link. You will need your California driver license or identification card number, your social security number and date of birth.
To register or change your registration after Feb. 20 through Election Day March 5, you will have to appear in person at your local polling place, vote center or county elections office.
Q. OK, I’m registered and got my ballot, now what?
A. Once you’re registered and have the ballot you want, just follow the instructions to fill it out and either drop it in the mail by election day — again, no postage necessary — or in a marked election office ballot drop box, or at a vote center, polling place or county election office.
Ballots must be postmarked by March 5, so make sure if you take it to a post box or office that day that the mail hasn’t already been collected. Election offices must receive ballots within 7 days of election for it to be counted. If you received a new replacement ballot, destroy your old one.
You can track your ballot online to see that it arrived and got counted through the Secretary of State’s WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov.
Q. Still confused?
A. State and local election officials worried about voter confusion over the different rules have been taking extra steps to make sure they understand. The California Secretary of State’s toll-free voter information hotline — (800) 345-VOTE (8683) — has been receiving hundreds of calls a day.
“We do want to make sure that everybody is aware,” Goltiao said