Matt Hoffman of Folsom did not notice Tuesday that California had launched its top-two primary system, allowing voters for the first time to cast ballots for candidates of any party.
Mike Wilber of Elk Grove said, "I thought it was in effect last year, honestly."
Rudi Elmensdorp assumed the new system had not been implemented after he looked at the presidential candidates on his Democratic ballot.
"It just had (Barack) Obama or a write-in," Elmensdorp said.
The trio managed to fill out their ballots without much ado, however. Officials of the secretary of state's office and six Sacramento-area polling places said voters did not complain or express confusion Tuesday about the top-two approach.
Touted by supporters as a way to discourage extremism by the Democratic or Republican parties, the new system puts the two highest vote-getters in any legislative or congressional primary, regardless of party, in the general election race in November.
The impact was not immediately clear in early returns. Only a handful of no-party-preference candidates appeared to advance, while as many as 25 of the 153 congressional and state legislative districts could see two candidates of the same party in the November general election.
Balloting in the presidential primary, which is not affected by the state change, continued Tuesday much as it had in years past. Voters chose from among contenders to carry their party's banner in the fall.
It was clear as voters cast ballots Tuesday that California will be represented by many new faces: Eleven congressional, nine state Senate and 35 Assembly races featured open seats without an incumbent running.
Voters created the top-two system by passing Proposition 14 in 2010, pushed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a way to ease legislative gridlock.
Schwarzenegger saw the top-two primary and the drawing of new political districts by an independent citizens commission as a one-two punch to invigorate a stale status quo in which few moderates won election, few seats switched party hands and legislative public approval ratings were dismal.
The new system also gives more clout to no-party-preference voters, whose ranks have jumped from 10.7 percent of California's electorate in 1996 to 21.3 percent today.
Republican Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria, as a state senator, forced the top-two primary onto the 2010 ballot by making it one of several demands to Democratic legislative leaders in return for his pivotal vote to end an 81-day budget impasse in 2009.
Maldonado, who Tuesday secured a place in the November election for Congress, said this week that the new primary system "hopefully will move the state in the right direction of electing officials who are reasonable, open minded and pragmatic and change their behavior a little bit as they cast votes at the Capitol."
Schwarzenegger, in a prepared statement, said the combined goal of the top-two primary and independent redistricting was to "take the power from the politicians and give it back to the people so they could elect politicians who represented them instead of the parties and special interests."
Opponents say the changes could backfire by discouraging participation in districts where voters are left without legislative or congressional candidates from their party on the November general election ballot.
"I think, at the end of the day, this has been the most oversold, hyped election that will produce the same results as before these so-called reforms," said Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio. "It's not attracting any more independent (voters). The only thing it's done is forced a lot more campaign spending."
Campaign spending by independent groups to affect legislative races has soared from more than $7 million in the 2010 primary to more than $12 million this year, state records show.