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Explainer: How is the June 5 primary election going to work?

Voters go to the polls for Super Tuesday primaries in Boyle Heights on February 5, 2008.
Voters go to the polls for Super Tuesday primaries in Boyle Heights on February 5, 2008.
David McNew/Getty Images

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On Tuesday, Californians head to the polls to vote for their next congressman, senator, judge, and much more. In that way it's like any other election, but as KPCC's Kevin Ferguson explains, the June 5 primary is unique for at least a couple of reasons.

Tuesday's vote will be the first ever statewide test of California's new open primary system. Voters created it when they passed Prop 14 in 2010. It means that in races for the US Congress and the state legislature, you can vote for any candidate you want regardless of party.

The top two vote getters in those races go on to the general election. And that will happen even if someone wins more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday.

"So what this likely will mean is that we’ll have some districts and some contests in the general election in November where there are two candidates of the same political party," said Dean Logan, the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters. "That’s a pretty fundamental change in the process."

When it comes to the non-partisan races in LA County, like the District Attorney contest, the process is slightly different. A candidate in a non-partisan race can win outright on Tuesday if he gets more than 50 percent of the vote. Otherwise, it will go to a runoff.

June fifth will be the first time Californians choose their House member, state assemblyman and state Senator based on the new district lines drawn from the last census. Those maps are also noteworthy because they were drawn by the new Citizens Redistricting Commission. And who picked the Citizens Commission? Californians, again, when they voted to pass Prop. 27 in 2010.

Both the federal congressional districts and the state legislature maps take effect once the newly elected officials take office. "For state assembly and state senate, that’s December 2012 and for congressional seats that’s in January of 2013," said Logan.

So in this election, many voters find themselves in new districts, picking candidates with a new process. Constituents who’ve been dealing with the same congressional district for years will be transferred over to new offices when their new representatives are seated. Confused, maybe? Overwhelmed? Frightened even? You aren’t alone.

"It's always frightening experience to put your hands and your political fate, in the hands of people you don’t know," said Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

He’s a Southern California Republican and he has just been redistricted for the third time in his career. His current district, the 46th, winds its way down the coast from Palos Verdes to Costa Mesa. The new district he’s running in, the 48th, only covers Orange County coastline but nothing in L.A. County.

"You have to prove yourself to your new constituents," said Rohrabacher. "We make sure that the files of the people that we’re working on. They’ll try to close them out and get them done as soon as possible. But if it’s still an ongoing file, we will work with whoevers congressional office it is now."

Rohrabacher also says this is one area in which Republicans and Democrats actually help each other out.

"Everybody thinks that there’s this partisan bickering and that we’re always at each other’s throats, and I haven’t seen that at all," he said. "Especially in terms of trying to work together to make sure that a constituent doesn’t fall through the cracks."

If he’s reelected, Rohrabacher and his staff have until January 2013 to make the transition.