In an attempt to make California more relevant in presidential primaries, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday that will move the state’s June primary to March.
The change is likely to make California among the first handful of states to weigh in on the 2020 presidential race.
“The intent of the bill was to put our voters at the front seat in choosing the next president and helping us drive a different agenda at the national level,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who carried the early-primary legislation.
In years past, presidential candidates have largely ignored deep-blue California, where it’s incredibly expensive to campaign because of the sheer size of the state and its huge population.
Proponents of Senate Bill 568 argued that issues crucial to both California and the nation — including immigration, climate change and criminal justice reform — were ignored by candidates of both parties in 2016.
But the move is likely to anger party leaders and residents of smaller states who get an opportunity to influence the national conversation because they weigh in early.
It could also stretch out general election campaigns to nine months, and push the beginning of primary campaigns well into the previous year.
“I think that’s a concern much more likely to be expressed by candidates and political consultants than it is to be shared by voters,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. “Voters want their votes to count. They want to vote with confidence.”
The earlier primary is no guarantee that California will be a decisive battleground in either primary.
Al Gore, George W. Bush and John Kerry did not become the presumptive nominees of their parties until they picked up huge delegate totals by winning California and other Super Tuesday states.
But in other years, primary races have extended well beyond Super Tuesday into the late spring.
The unsung winners of Brown’s decision to sign Senate Bill 568 might be down-ballot candidates.
In 2008, California kept its presidential primary early in the cycle, and moved its state ballot back to June. Counties had to pay for two separate elections, and only 28 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in June.
With a consolidated move to March, Lara said all elections will get a larger spotlight, at no extra cost.
“We’ll have increased voter attention and voter turnout,” he added. “We know even these down-ballot candidates benefit.”