How Californians cast their votes in future primary elections will depend on what they decide Tuesday at the ballot box.
One of five measures before voters, Proposition 14, which The Associate Press reported was approved Tuesday, will scrap the political primary system in favor of an open contest in which only the top two vote-getters would advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
Early returns showed Proposition 14 leading 61 percent to 34 percent, with 9 percent of precincts reporting.
It is one of three propositions that would amend the state Constitution.
Other ballot measures ask Californians to experiment with public funding of political campaigns, impose voter oversight of public power and authorize insurance companies to charge higher rates to drivers who have not always carried car insurance.
The open primaries measure has pitted the state's political parties against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has long argued that centrist candidates rarely win primaries dominated by party activists.
Schwarzenegger's campaign committee has donated $2 million to support the effort while the California Chamber of Commerce has given $720,000.
The campaign's public face has been Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, a Republican who as a state senator last year leveraged his budget vote and agreed to raise $13 billion in taxes if lawmakers agreed to put Proposition 14 on the ballot.
The Republican and Democratic parties describe the measure as the result of a backroom deal. They say well-funded special interests will have the greatest sway over the selection process if candidates are not required to compete in partisan primaries. The result: Candidates would be beholden to donors, not voters.
Third parties also fear their candidates will be shut out of general elections if the measure passes because minor candidates typically draw fewer votes. The Green and the Peace and Freedom parties have run television ads opposing Proposition 14, but their fundraising has been dwarfed by backers of the measure.
The measure is patterned after a law in Washington state that has been in effect since 2008. Louisiana has a similar open contest for its general election and sends the top two vote-getters to a runoff.
The other election-related measure, Proposition 15, would open the door to public funding of political campaigns in California after a 26-year ban.
With 9 percent of precincts reporting, Proposition 15 was trailing by 55 percent to 45 percent.
If approved by voters, candidates running for secretary of state in 2014 and 2018 voluntarily could agree to limit their spending in exchange for as much as $2.3 million to compete in the primary and general elections. Additional money would be available to candidates if competitors or special interests spent more money.
California's largest utility has poured the most money into a proposition on the primary ballot. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. contributed $46 million to Proposition 16 in a ploy to stymie competing public power agencies from expanding into new territory and to discourage municipalities from starting their own utilities.
The initiative would amend the California Constitution to require local governments to get two-thirds voter approval before they could use tax dollars to start a power agency.
Voters appeared divided on Proposition 16. Early returns showed the measure leading by less than a percentage point with 9 percent of precincts reporting.
Another business-backed initiative, Proposition 17, was put on the ballot by Mercury Insurance in a bid to overturn a state law that prohibits insurance companies from considering a driver's insurance history to set rates. It also would allow loyalty discounts to follow costumers if they switch insurance companies.
The third largest auto insurer in the state, Mercury has contributed nearly $15 million to fund the campaign. It argues that most policyholders would save money through the continuous-coverage discount.
With 9 percent of precincts reporting, Proposition 17 was leading by 53 percent to 47 percent.
Voters overwhelmingly adopted Proposition 13, a measure that would exempt earthquake-safety improvements from property taxes. The proposition put on the ballot by the Legislature would prevent counties from raising property taxes on buildings retrofitted to withstand earthquakes until ownership changes.
Current law exempts owners of unreinforced masonry structures, such as those made of brick or cement blocks, from higher property taxes for 15 years after they make seismic improvements.