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Chris Gilbert


So Much For California’s Early Primary

It was not only supposed to increase voter turnout, but holding a presidential primary on Super Tuesday, rather than just weeks before the nominating convention, was supposed to make California matter when it came to choosing the President of the United States. Nice try.

With several exceptions in recent years, Californians are used to voting in June. Most times, that means the delegate (and electoral vote) rich state was out of play, and the nomination virtually decided by the time we here in this state got around to going to the polls. Several attempts have been made this century to change that, but it hasn’t really worked out. Now, you can add 2020 to that list.

If you are participating in the Democratic primary, and you don’t have to be a Democrat to do so (you can’t be a Republican, though, so what’s really the point?), you had to be excited about all of the choices. The early debates had more than ten people on the stage. You knew right away that people like Marianne Williamson, Tulsi Gabbard, and Andrew Yang weren’t going to be around very long, but there were still over a half dozen viable candidates to pick from. Now, just since the South Carolina primary on Saturday, three candidates have dropped out.

It was a big discussion at work Monday. If you were Tom Steyer (who ended his campaign Saturday), Pete Buttigieg (Sunday night after telling the morning the news shows that he was “in it to win it”), or Amy Klobuchar (Monday), why wouldn’t you wait? Fourteen states are holding primaries on the same day, with about a third of the delegates at stake. With only three days between primaries, you don’t even have to spend any money. No real time to buy more ads anyway.

One of the answers we came up with had to do with what happened just hours ago. Buttigieg and Klobuchar announced that they are endorsing Joe Biden. This could have had an effect on California, and maybe still can, except for the fact that in several counties (including Nevada County), thousands if not millions of people have voted already.

Ballots go in the mail one month before the election in many counties. Regional Vote Centers, instead of your neighborhood polling place, open eleven days before the election. There’s also weekend voting, and drop boxes all over town for your ballots. Or you can just mail your ballot back, with postage paid. With all of that going on, you have to think Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Steyer voters want their ballots back.

There’s really not much of an argument, though, that holding a primary in June is stupid (er, not a good idea), but holding it super early, like Super Tuesday, hasn’t worked in the past. From an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2017, from 1946 to 1994, all California primaries were held in early June. In 1996, legislators moved it to the fourth Tuesday in March, in 2000 and 2004 to the first Tuesday in March, and in 2008 all the way to February 5, with a separate statewide primary for congressional and legislative seats on June 3. How’s that worked out?

That same article also makes one point in favor of a June primary. If, on the chance that two candidates are battling it out in a close race for the nomination, California becomes a “kingmaker”.Four years ago, for example, while it wasn’t quite that close, Hillary Clinton really needed California to fend off Bernie Sanders. Most of the time, though, Californians mostly just watched the returns on TV, and didn’t bother to vote, including for their congressional representatives and state senators.

At least on the morning of Super Tuesday, there are four choices remaining on the Democratic ballot—Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. How many of them have you seen campaigning in California? Bernie’s been here a couple of times, and Bloomberg’s money has made several appearances on television, but the former New York mayor really hasn’t. No Biden, and no Warren.

California longs to be a major player in Presidential contests, but we just have to accept that it isn’t. It’s a blue state, which means Republicans don’t campaign here for the general election, and even in the primaries, waiting for the returns to come in on election night is most often anti-climactic. Steyer gave up two nights ago, Mayor Pete and Senator Amy dropped out when they did to give Biden a shot, but at least in California, many voters have already cast their ballots. Plus, if you believe the polls (and believe it or not they are usually right), Bernie is going to win anyway. Happy voting.


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