Confused by the changes in how voters will elect candidates this year?

You're not alone.

Sonoma County election officials said that they have been fielding a variety of concerns about the June 5 primary as vote-by-mail ballots start going out today.

The 158,183 absentee ballots will be mailed to people who are either permanent vote-by-mail voters or have no assigned polling place.

An additional 5,000 to 7,000 voters are expected to request mail ballots after they receive their sample ballots in the mail within the next week or so.

Sample ballots started going out on April 26 and include a page describing the new Top-Two Candidate Open Primary Act, which has led to some confusion.

For the primary, voters will be able to select candidates in local, state and national races regardless of their political affliation.

Voters will select only one choice for every contest. The top-two vote-getters will then be decided in the Nov. 4 general run-off .

The exception is the general election presidential ballot, which will include the top vote-getter from each party and any independent candidates that may qualify.

Some voters who have not declared a party preference are confused why they are only able to participate in the Democratic or American Independent primaries for president.

The answer is because those two parties are allowing those voters to cross over and participate, said Gloria Colter, assistant registrar of voters.

She said some of the confusion is because the Republican Party allowed those voters to vote in previous non-presidential elections.

That is not the case this year, she said.

Colter said that vote-by-mail ballots are being sent to a mailing firm that is sorting the envelopes by zip code. It's an extra step that gets the county a reduced mailing rate, she said.

Staff Writer Martin Espinoza contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or