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.
“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.