Lorena Gonzalez Bill to End Ballot Confusion in Presidential Primaries Heads to the Governor’s Desk

Friday, September 13, 2019

SACRAMENTO – (Friday, Sept. 13, 2019) – Legislation authored by State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) to reduce voter confusion over the presidential primary process passed the California State Legislature tonight after a 62-13 concurrence vote in the Assembly. Assembly Bill 681 now heads to the governor’s desk for a signature or veto.

“We need to ensure California’s non-partisan and independent voters are aware they need to take an affirmative step in order to participate in the 2020 presidential primary,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “One postcard notification that they’ll receive during this year’s busy holiday season just isn’t enough.” 

AB 681
would provide California voters with specific notices from county elections officials before a presidential primary. The notices will contain key information to reduce voter confusion over the primary process, and ensure proper access to the ballot. The bill also simplifies certain updates to a voter’s party preference and address to ensure access to the ballot.

"As we enter the fifth election cycle under the ‘Top Two Primary’ system, California voters have increasingly enjoyed voting for the candidates of their choice regardless of political party preference," Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. "The Presidential Primary, however, remains the exception. Voters registered as ‘No Party Preference’ have the option of requesting a ballot that includes presidential candidates of a political party that allows ‘cross-over’ voting.”

“It is imperative that elections officials assist No Party Preference voters in advance of the March 3, 2020 Presidential Primary, clearly communicating the process to request a cross-over ballot if they so desire. Effective communication from elections officials helps inform voters of their rights and options and builds greater trust in the democratic process,"
Secretary of State Padilla said.

Confusion for voters stems from California’s open primary rules. In state and local primary elections, all voters including registered independents get a ballot that features all candidates on it. But during presidential primaries, the national party holding the primary must choose whether to allow independent voters to participate or not. 

Unaffiliated voters have not been allowed to participate in the Republican presidential primaries, according to Republican National Committee rules. In the case that there is a primary, these notices will give ‘no party preference’ voters enough time to re-register if they would like to participate. 

In order for voters who are not affiliated with a political party to participate in the Democratic presidential primary, they must request a special ballot that lists Democratic candidates in advance. These notices will ensure independent voters make that request in time to participate in the Democratic presidential primary. 

The notice required by AB 681 would contain:

  • A voter’s current political party preference;
  • Type of ballot the voter is eligible to cast;
  • How to request a partisan ballot as a no party preference voter; and
  • How to update a voter’s political party preference.