Election Day is today, but it’s not too late to get informed about the important changes to our state ballot before you vote. As we launch a new Open Primary system, here’s a brief guide about what’s changed and how it informs your vote today.

Top-Two Voting

For years the California legislature has been perilously divided along partisan lines.Californians, perhaps in a nod to a 2008 Obama-style “post-partisan” vision, or maybe in an eagerness to see more independent voices in Sacramento, approved Proposition 14.The 2010 -approved measure introduces new primary races for candidate elections, doing away with individual party primaries for local and state candidates. (This excludes the presidential race). Primaries instead look more like the general election, with every registered candidate competing for the highest number of votes. November’s general election becomes your run-off, where the top-two vote getters – regardless of party – compete for the office.

June’s primary will be the first statewide test of this new voting system, so we have yet to see whether this will do anything towards changing the tone inside the state Capitol. Many are skeptical, as candidates are likely to campaign towards their party bases that tend to more reliably vote than do independents. However, we can expect candidate appeals to the center if a Democrat and a Republican are closely competing. In other cases, Prop 14 could have a negative effect for contested partisan districts. For example, two popular Democratic candidates may advance to the general election where they will be forced to continue the fight through November, when under normal circumstances these conflicts are resolved in June.

New Congressional and Assembly Districts

We are also approaching our first statewide, post-2010 redistricting election. Traditionally, the legislature drew their own post-census legislative and congressional district lines. With 2008’s Proposition 11, California voters rejected this old model in favor of an independent citizen commission put to the task of redrawing our district boundaries. Most notably, the commission is not allowed to consider party affiliation or the residence locations of individual legislators. The new redistricting model seeks to limit incumbent self-protection and partisan considerations.

In some cases more than one incumbent was drawn into the same district. These candidates often rush into different districts or remain and run against the other incumbent. In consequence there has been rhetoric about candidates carpetbagging into new districts, but try not to be misled. A candidate’s community ties is an important consideration for many voters, but redistricting could give rise to some confusion. In a sense, there are no “real” incumbents in district-wide offices due to all-new districts. So you’re going to want to pay attention to how your district lines have changed. Consider whether office seekers are genuinely from or can effectively represent your new district.