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How to Vote in California’s 2024 Primary Election

January 29, 2024

The 2024 California Primary Election is happening on March 5, 2024. Here’s what you should know about voting in the upcoming election.

Key 2024 Primary Election Dates

  • California registered voters will receive a vote-by-mail ballot from your county elections office starting on February 5, 2024.
  • Ballot drop-off locations open on February 6, 2024.
    • Vote centers open for early in-person voting in all Voter’s Choice Act counties beginning on February 24, 2024.
    • Vote-by-mail ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by March 12, 2024.
  • Voters should return their vote-by-mail ballots by mail, at a drop-off location, or at your county elections office, by March 5, 2024.

California Primary Elections Matter

Despite what you may have heard in national news coverage, the primaries are NOT over. California’s 2024 Primary Elections will take place on March 5 and will help decide much more than who’s running in the 2024 Presidential Election.

In a primary election, you have more choices because more candidates are running in different races and your vote will help determine which candidates – the top two who receive the most votes – will go through to the November 5, 2024 general election in each race. 

In some local races voters will elect who wins their seat in the March primary election. If any one candidate in a local race secures more than 50% of the vote in the primary election, they win outright and there will not be a general election for the seat. 

Voter turnout tends to be lower for primary elections than general elections, and voters who turn out for primary elections tend to be older, whiter, wealthier, and have higher levels of educational attainment than the whole California electorate, so primary results don’t historically represent all voters in the state — but with Courage, we can change that!

What will be on your California Primary Ballot?

What is on your primary election ballot will depend on which California county you are registered to vote in. Below is a breakdown of some of the items you may be asked to vote on.

Federal/National Races

President and Vice President

The President of the United States is the head of the Executive branch of the federal government, and the Commander-in-Chief for all branches of the armed forces. A president has the power to make diplomatic, executive, and judicial appointments, and can sign into law or veto legislation. Presidential administrations are responsible for both foreign and domestic policy priorities. Presidents are limited to serving two four-year terms in office.

The Vice President is the second-highest office in the Executive branch of the federal government. The officeholder is the first in the line of succession to the presidency and holds legislative authority as the president of the Senate. A Vice President serves four-year terms, and there is no term limit for this position.  

U.S. Senate

Members of the Senate represent and advocate for the needs of their state constituency and share legislative responsibility with the House of Representatives. Each state, regardless of population, is represented by two senators. Senate elections are statewide, and senators are elected to serve a six-year term. There is no term limit for this position. Democrats and Independents currently hold a 51-person majority in the Senate, while Republicans hold 49 seats. 


Congressmembers represent and advocate for the needs of their district constituents at the United States Capitol. They are responsible for creating, debating, and voting on legislation that addresses issues within their district. California has 52 congressional representatives, the largest delegation in the country. Republicans currently hold a 219-member majority in the House, while Democrats hold 213 seats. One vacancy will be filled by a February 13 special election to replace former New York Republican Rep. Santos, who was expelled from Congress in December 2023. A March 19 special election will be held to replace former California Republican Rep. McCarthy, who resigned at the end of 2023. 

State Races

State Assembly

State assembly members represent and advocate for the needs of their district constituents at the California State Capitol. They are responsible for creating, debating, and voting on legislation that addresses issues within their district. The California State Assembly has 80 districts. Democrats currently hold a three-quarters supermajority of 60 seats in the California State Assembly, while Republicans hold 19 seats and one seat is held by an Independent.

State Senate

State senators represent and advocate for the needs of their district constituents at the California State Capitol. They are responsible for creating, debating, and voting on legislation that addresses issues within their district. The California State Senate has 40 districts. Democrats currently hold a two-thirds supermajority of 31 seats in the California State Senate, while Republicans hold 9 seats.

County Races

Board of Supervisors

Each of the 58 counties in California is governed by a five-person board of supervisors. A board of supervisors has legislative and executive power to manage county services and resources, including courts, jails, public health, and public lands. Supervisors are typically ‎limited to 3 terms or 12 years in office total. 

District Attorney

Each of the 58 counties in California elects a District Attorney to manage the prosecution of criminal offenses related to the violation of state and county law. The District Attorney has investigative authority, manages the apprehension of individuals identified through the investigative process, and holds charging and prosecutorial power. District Attorneys are elected to four-year terms in office. 

Superior Court Judge

Judges of the California Superior Courts are elected in nonpartisan, county-wide elections to six-year terms. Once voted in, a judge can run for retention at the expiration of their term. A retention election is a process by which voters decide whether an incumbent judge should remain for another term. If the judge, when not facing an opponent, does not obtain a certain percentage of voters (often 50%), they are removed from the position. Many judges join the court through a gubernatorial appointment. If a judge is appointed, they compete in the next general election following the appointment. California has 58 trial or superior courts, one in each county. These courts hear civil, criminal, family, probate, and juvenile cases.

County Party Central Committee

California has six qualified political parties — American Independent, Democratic, Green, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom, and Republican. Central committees are the county governing bodies of the parties, and lead party efforts in the county, including on campaigns and local endorsements. Local members of a party are elected to the central committee.

Local and City Races

City Council

Incorporated cities in California are generally governed by a five-person city council – larger cities have larger councils with more members. A city council is responsible for establishing policy, passing local laws (called ordinances), voting on budget appropriations, and developing an overall vision for the city. Many city council members are ‎limited to 3 terms or 12 years in office total. 


Depending on the city you reside in, your city might use a council-manager government structure, in which the mayor is elected at large acts as chair of the city council, and works in collaboration with an appointed city manager. Some cities may use the mayor-council government structure, in which a mayor is elected at large and acts as chair of the city council and the city’s chief executive officer. And in other cities, the city council may elect a mayor from the council. The mayor does not hold any special legislative power. Mayors are elected to a four-year term, with a limit of two consecutive terms. 

School Board

School districts have a board that provides administrative oversight and manages the district-wide budget. Depending on the school district, members are elected by districts (an area within the school district in which a candidate must live) or at-large (district-wide where all candidates run against each other and the top vote-getters win). School board member terms and term limits vary by district.

Ballot Measures

Ballot Measures

Ballot measures – also called initiatives and propositions – are proposed changes in the law that voters weigh in on directly on the ballot. Statewide ballot measures can be approved with a majority (over 50%) of the vote, while some local ballot measures require approval of 55% or two-thirds of the vote. 

Ballot measures can be placed on the ballot by governing bodies – the state legislature, boards of supervisors, and city councils – and can be placed on the ballot by any voter registered in the relevant district by a process that includes gathering a certain threshold of verified signatures of registered voters. Special interest groups – including wealthy donors and corporations – will often spend millions of dollars to qualify and pass ballot measures when they cannot get favorable policies passed by governing bodies. 


The California Constitution allows voters to approve or reject measures and laws that have already been passed and enacted. Anyone can challenge a state law by qualifying a referendum for the ballot through a process that includes collecting verified signatures from at least 5% of votes cast for all candidates in the previous gubernatorial election (2022 for the 2024 presidential election). Voters decide if they will “Keep the law” or “Overturn the law,” determined by a majority vote. Similar to other ballot measures, the referenda process has been driven largely by wealthy special interests.  

State Constitutional Amendments

A state constitution amendment allows voters to change the California Constitution with a two-thirds vote. Amendments are initiated by the state legislature, which must pass the proposed amendment by two-thirds to qualify it for the ballot. 

Your Vote Matters

Your vote matters every election because you have the opportunity to choose leaders to represent your community and champion the issues you care most about. Some races have been won by one vote, and how close or not a race is can influence how an elected leader governs.