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Why did California go to a March primary?

Why did California go to a March primary?

Polling place setup

Voting booths are set up by Laura Garcia the day before the 2018 election in the Minami Community Center in Santa Maria. Election workers will be setting up polling places for the 2020 primary election three months earlier than in years past.

After many years of holding its primary elections in June, California shifted to March starting this year. Here's why.

The Prime Time Primary Act was signed into law in 2017 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown to increase the influence California has on the selection of presidential candidates, since it is the most populous, has the largest economy and is arguably the most progressive state in the country.

Proponents noted the state’s economic output in 2018 was $3 trillion, or $1.2 trillion more than second-place Texas, and its population is currently estimated at just over 39.5 million, with Texas again in second place with just under 30 million.

So why, they asked, shouldn’t the state have more influence on presidential candidates, pointing out that by the time California held its June primary in 2016, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump essentially had already sewed up their parties’ nominations.

Critics, however, said it would create a longer gap between the primary and general elections, and it would push candidates and campaign committees into getting organized and raising funds that much sooner.

Republicans didn’t like the move because they said it would directly benefit California Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to run against President Trump.

When the law became effective in 2019, it moved the primary election to “the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March,” referred to as “Super Tuesday” because it’s the same day seven other states hold their primary elections.

It’s not the first time California has moved up its primary election, however.

After decades of June primary elections, the state held March primaries in 1996, 2000 and 2004 and a February primary in 2008, resulting in what was allegedly the state’s highest primary voter turnout since 1980.

But in 2011, Brown moved it back to June again as a cost-cutting measure.


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News Editor

Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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