Voting in Presidential Primary Elections

“A button of the California flag is placed on top of an American flag

 

In 2018, a new law moved California primaries from June to March. The 2020 Presidential Primary Election will be held on March 3.

For the March 3, 2020, Consolidated Presidential Primary Election, the party preference that voters selected when they last registered to vote determines which presidential primary contest, if any, will appear on their ballot.

Besides voting for presidential candidates to move forward to the November 2020 general election, voters will also vote on other federal and state offices and ballot measures.

Are you prepared for the primary election? You may need to take action to make sure you can vote for your preferred candidate for President. Learn why your party preference matters; how to check, change, or remove your party preference; and more.

Why Party Preference Matters in the March 3 2020, Consolidated Presidential Primary Election

For presidential primary elections, the party preference that voters selected when registering to vote determines which presidential primary contest, if any, will appear on their ballot.

Voters who selected a party preference when they registered will receive a ballot with that party’s candidates for President. If there is an election for the party’s county central committee/county council, the party’s governing body in San Francisco, candidates for that contest will also appear on the ballot.

Voters with a party preference cannot vote for candidates running in a different party’s presidential primary or county central committee/county council contest.

Voters who did not select a party preference, or whose preference is for a non-qualified political party in California, will receive a ballot that does not include a contest for President unless they take action. To vote for a presidential candidate in this election, these voters must specifically request a ballot of one of the parties allowing voters with no party preference to vote in its presidential primary. Learn how to request a party ballot.

Voters with no party preference are not eligible to vote in contests for a political party’s county central committee/county council.

Regardless of party preference, all voters will receive a ballot that includes contests for voter-nominated offices: United States Representative, State Senator, and State Assembly Member; and any nonpartisan offices and ballot measures.

Check your party preference and other registration information using the Voter Portal.

To change, add, or remove your party preference, complete a new registration form or the California Secretary of State’s Online Registration Application. For more information, visit Registration Basics.

For the March 3, 2020, Consolidated Presidential Primary Election, the parties that will allow voters with no party preference to vote in their party’s presidential primary contests are the American Independent, Democratic, and Libertarian parties.

The parties that will not allow voters with no party preference to vote in their presidential primary contests are the Green, Peace and Freedom, and Republican parties.

How Presidential Primary Elections Are Conducted in California

Qualified political parties in California* may hold presidential primaries in one of two ways: a closed presidential primary or a modified-closed presidential primary. Usually, certain parties have a closed presidential primary and others have a modified-closed presidential primary.

Under closed presidential primary rules, only voters who selected a party preference when registering to vote may vote for that party's presidential candidates.

Under modified-closed presidential primary rules, a party may also allow voters who did not select a party preference—known as “No Party Preference” or “NPP” voters—to vote for that party's presidential candidates.

*The Secretary of States determines which parties are qualified in California and publishes a  list of qualified political parties.

How Primary Elections for State and Federal Offices Other Than President Are Conducted

In California elections, all voters can vote for any candidates running for voter-nominated offices, regardless of the party preference of the voters or the candidates. In the March 3, 2020, Consolidated Presidential Primary Election, the following voter-nominated offices will appear on the ballot: United States Representative, State Senator, and State Assembly Member.

For each contest for a voter-nominated office, the two candidates with the most votes in the March primary election move on to the November general election—even if both candidates have the same party preference. This process is known as a top two open primary election.

Under top two open primary rules, the primary contest for a voter-nominated office must be held even when there are only two candidates running for an office. If a candidate for a voter-nominated office wins a majority of votes in the primary, that candidate must still run against the runner-up in the general election. In addition, a write-in candidate for a voter-nominated office can run in the general election only by first winning one of the top two places in the primary.

All voters can also vote for any nonpartisan offices and for or against ballot measures that appear on the March 2020 ballot.

Party Preference FAQs

  1. What does party preference mean?
  2. What does party information mean when listed with a candidate’s name on the ballot?
  3. Which political parties are currently qualified in California?
  4. How can I check the party preference I selected when I registered to vote?
  5. How can I change my party preference?
  6. I selected a party preference when I registered to vote. What contests will be on my March 2020 ballot?
  7. I selected a preference for a party that is not qualified in California when I registered to vote. What contests will be on my March 2020 ballot?
  8. I did not select a party preference when I registered to vote. What contests will be on my March 2020 ballot?
  9. Which parties will allow voters with no party preference to vote in their March 2020 presidential primary?
  10. When can voters with no party preference request a party ballot?
  11. I am a voter with no party preference. How can I request a party ballot?
  12. I vote by mail. How can I get a different ballot from the one that I received?
  13. I missed the registration deadline. Can I still change my party preference and vote a ballot that reflects the change?
  14. I vote at a Voting Center during an early voting period. How will the Department staff member know which ballot to issue?
  15. I vote at a polling place on Election Day. How will the poll worker know which ballot to issue?
  16. What if I have more questions?
  1. What does party preference mean?
    Generally, “party preference” refers to the political party with which a voter is registered.

    When registering to vote, voters may select a preference for a qualified party, a non-qualified party, or no party.

    Registering to vote with a preference for a qualified party allows voters to participate in that party’s presidential primary elections. If there is an election for the party’s county central committee/county council, the party’s governing body in San Francisco, voters can also vote in that contest.

    Voters who indicate no party preference or a preference for a non-qualified party may participate in presidential primaries of parties that allow such voters to vote for their presidential candidates; however, these voters must specifically request a party ballot. For more information, see Q11.

    Voters with no party preference or a preference for a non-qualified party are not eligible to vote in contests for a political party’s county central committee/county council.

  2. What does party information mean when listed with a candidate’s name on the ballot?
    The party information that appears with a candidate’s name on the ballot has different meanings, depending on the type of office and the type of election.
     
    • For party nominated offices (President and Vice President): the political party printed with the candidates’ names means that the candidates are that party’s choice for the office. This contest will appear on the ballot for the November 2020 general election.

    • For voter-nominated state and federal offices other than President: the candidate’s party preference is printed with his or her name on the ballot. “Party preference” means the political party with which the candidate is registered to vote. If a candidate does not have a preference for a qualified political party, “Party Preference: None” is printed.

      The candidate’s party preference does not mean that the candidate is endorsed by that party. Official party endorsements received by the Department of Elections by the submission deadline are printed in the Voter Information Pamphlet (available in early February 2020).

    • Judicial, school, and municipal offices are nonpartisan. No party information is printed with the names of candidates for these offices.

  3. Which political parties are currently qualified in California?
    The political parties currently qualified to participate in any primary election or presidential general election in California are: the American Independent Party, the Democratic Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, and the Republican Party.

    The California Secretary of State determines which parties are qualified in California and publishes a  list of qualified political parties.
     
  4. How can I check the party preference I selected when I registered to vote?
    There are several ways to check your party preference:
    • Use the Voter Portal
    • Call the Department of Elections at (415) 554-4375, write to SFVote@sfgov.org, or visit the Department’s office, Room 48 in City Hall.
    • Check the back cover of your Voter Information Pamphlet (arriving in early February 2020).

  5. How can I change my party preference?
    To change, add, or remove your party preference, complete a new registration form or the  California Secretary of State's Online Registration Application. For more information, visit Registration Basics. The registration deadline for the March 3, 2020, election is Monday, February 17, 2020.

    Those who missed the registration deadline can register to vote or update their voter registration information using conditional voter registration available at voting centers and polling places through Election Day, March 3. Those who change their party preference under conditional voter registration, can vote a provisional ballot of their newly selected political party. Provisional ballots of conditional registrants will be counted once Department of Elections personnel have completed the voter registration verification process. For more information, see Q13.

    If you wish to change your party preference, please do so as soon as possible to help ensure timely receipt of your preferred ballot.
     
  6. I selected a party preference when I registered to vote. What contests will be on my March 2020 ballot?
    If you selected a preference for a qualified party in California, you will receive a ballot with that party’s candidates for President.
    Note: Voters with a party preference cannot vote for candidates running in a different party’s presidential primary unless they change their party preference by re-registering to vote.

    If there is an election for the party’s county central committee/county council, the party’s governing body in San Francisco, candidates for that contest will also appear on your ballot.
    Your ballot will also include contests for voter-nominated offices: United States Representative, State Senator, and State Assembly Member; and any nonpartisan offices and ballot measures.

    If you selected a preference for a party that is not qualified in California, you have the same options as voters with no party preference; for more information, see Q8.
     
  7. I selected a preference for a party that is not qualified in California when I registered to vote. What contests will be on my March 2020 ballot?
    You have the same options as voters with no party preference; for more information, see Q8.
     
  8. I did not select a party preference when I registered to vote. What contests will be on my March 2020 ballot?
    Your ballot will include contests for voter-nominated offices: United States Representative, State Senator, and State Assembly Member; and any nonpartisan offices and ballot measures. Your ballot will not include a contest for President unless you specifically request a ballot of one of the parties that allow voters with no party preference to vote in their March 2020 presidential primary. For the March 3, 2020, Consolidated Presidential Primary Election, the parties that will allow voters with no party preference to vote in their party’s presidential primary contests are the American Independent, Democratic, and Libertarian parties. To learn how to request a party ballot, see Q11.

    Voters with no party preference are not eligible to vote in contests for a political party’s county central committee/county council, the party’s governing body in San Francisco.
     
  9. Which parties will allow voters with no party preference to vote in their March 2020 presidential primary?
    For the March 3, 2020, Consolidated Presidential Primary Election, the parties that will allow voters with no party preference to vote in their party’s presidential primary contests are the American Independent, Democratic, and Libertarian parties.

    A list of political parties that will allow voters with no party preference to vote in their March 2020 presidential primaries is available on the California Secretary of State’s website.

  10. When can voters with no party preference request a party ballot?
    Voters with no party preference can request a party ballot as soon as the California Secretary of State announces, no later than October 21, 2019, which political parties chose to open their March 2020 presidential primaries to voters with no party preference. Although voters can request a party ballot through Election Day, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, the Department encourages voters to make their requests as soon as possible to help ensure timely receipt of their preferred ballot.

  11. I am a voter with no party preference. How can I request a party ballot?
    Voters with no party preference can request a party ballot in several ways.

    If you permanently vote by mail, the Department of Elections will send you a postcard with your ballot options. Indicate your ballot choice and return the postcard to the Department by mail (no-postage required), in person at the Department’s office in City Hall, Room 48, by email as a scanned attachment to SFVote@sfgov.org or by fax to (415) 554-7344.

    Other options for requesting a party ballot include:
    1. Contacting the Department of Elections at (415) 554-4375, via SFVote@sfgov.org or by fax (415) 554-4372 with the type of party ballot a voter is requesting, as well as a voter’s name, home address, the address to which the ballot should be mailed if different from the home address, and date of birth.
    2. Visiting the Department’s office in City Hall, Room 48
    3. Using the Voter Portal (ballot selection feature will be available beginning November 6)
    4. Indicating the ballot choice on a vote-by-mail application (PDF)
    5. Completing and returning the application on the back cover of the Voter Information Pamphlet (arriving early February 2020)

    When voting in person, voters can request a party ballot at a voting center or polling place.

  12. I vote by mail. How can I get a different ballot from the one that I received?
    If you are registered with no party preference and received a ballot with no presidential contest, you can request a replacement ballot of one of the parties allowing voters with no party preference to vote in their presidential primary in several ways:
    • Call the Department of Elections at (415) 554-4375
    • Visit the Department’s office in City Hall, Room 48
    • Use the ballot replacement feature (available once ballots are mailed in early February 2020) on the Voter Portal
    • Send an email to SFVote@sfgov.org, fax a request to (415) 554-4372, or mail a request to the Department of Elections. The request must include a voter’s name, home address, the address to which the ballot should be mailed if different from the home address, date of birth, and the type of party ballot requested.

    If you are registered with a party preference but want to vote a ballot for a different party, you must re-register by the registration deadline, Monday, February 17, 2020. Upon receipt of your new registration, the Department will mail a replacement ballot that reflects your new party preference.

    After the registration deadline and through Election Day, March 3, 2020, you can change your party preference and cast a provisional ballot that reflects your new party preference at a voting center during early voting hours or a polling place on Election Day, March 3.
     
  13. I missed the registration deadline. Can I still change my party preference and vote a ballot that reflects the change?
    Yes. You can change your party preference and cast a provisional ballot that reflects your new party preference at a voting center during early voting hours or a polling place on Election Day, March 3.
     
  14. I vote at a Voting Center during an early voting period. How will the Department staff member know which ballot to issue?
    The Department’s registration database stores the party preference for each voter in San Francisco. The Department staff member will issue your ballot based on that information. If you have no party preference, you will be offered the choice of a ballot with no presidential contest or a ballot of one of the parties that has opened its presidential primary to voters with no party preference.
     
  15. I vote at a polling place on Election Day. How will the poll worker know which ballot to issue?
    The Roster of Voters will indicate the party preference for each voter in the precinct, and the ballot options for voters with no party preference. The poll worker will issue your ballot based on that information. If you have no party preference, you will be offered the choice of a ballot with no presidential contest or a ballot of one of the parties that has opened its presidential primary to voters with no party preference.
     
  16. What if I have more questions?
    Call the Department of Elections at (415) 554-4375 or write to SFVote@sfgov.org.