Independent Voter Project

Top-Two Primary

Learn More: Study Shows Competition and Voter Confidence Increase in California

In 2008, the Independent Voter Project (“IVP”) authored California’s “Top-Two” nonpartisan open primary proposition (“Top-Two Primary”). California voters passed the proposition in 2010.

The Top-Two primary fundamentally changes the traditional approach to elections. Under a traditional primary system, whether the primary is “open,” “closed,” “semi-closed,” or any other iteration, the PURPOSE of the primary election is for political parties to choose which candidate best represents THEM.

Then, after the primary, voters participate in the general election and choose from the field of candidates predetermined by the political parties. Under a nonpartisan Top-Two system, instead of having separate primaries for each political party, there is one single primary. All candidates, voters, and political parties participate on the same ballot, and the rules are the same for everyone. Unlike a traditional system, the PURPOSE of the primary is to narrow the candidate field to the “top-two” candidates who best represent ALL OF US, regardless of the candidate or voter’s party affiliations.

The nonpartisan “top-two” primary has been implemented in California as fewer and fewer voters participate in primary elections nationwide. This fact, coupled with the reality that over 90% of our representatives are de facto elected during the primary stage of the election, highlight the importance of nonpartisan primaries in providing all voters a meaningful opportunity to participate.

Even more important, both major political parties have been attacking “open” partisan-based primaries across the country in the courtroom. Whether it’s a lawyer for the Democratic Party or the Republicans, the political parties have been asserting their private right of association to exclude non-party members from participating in primary elections at all. Several courts have sided with the political parties, despite the fact that all taxpayers are funding these primary elections.

This is why the Independent Voter Project has taken its next fight to the courtroom. 

Three principles guide the legal strategy:

1. The right to vote is fundamental.

2. The right to vote cannot be abridged by a requirement to join any organization.

3. Public funds should not be used to subsidize activities of political parties that abridge a voter’s right to meaningful participation in the election process.


Learn more about why political parties control primary elections HERE