SACRAMENTO (CN) – The nation’s most populous state could play a larger role in the 2020 presidential primaries after California lawmakers on Thursday passed two bills that would move up the state’s elections from June to March.
Irritated with the role California’s 19 million registered voters played in the 2016 presidential primaries, the bills’ Democratic authors say having an earlier primary will give California more clout and a greater stake in the nomination process. The companion bills passed were passed by the state Senate and Assembly on mostly party-line votes.
“We are dead last when it comes to our presidential primary calendar,” said state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach. “It’s time that Californians have a greater voice about who is leading our country.”
Under Lara’s Senate Bill 568, California’s primary elections would be held on the third Tuesday of March or at an earlier date selected by the governor. It would also align the dates of presidential primaries elections with statewide primary elections. The Senate approved SB 568 by 32-6 vote.
The related measure, Assembly Bill 84 by Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, would move California’s primary election into the Super Tuesday slot. In 2016, 13 states and territories held elections on Super Tuesday, the first Tuesday in March.
Along with the primary proposal, Mullin is pushing a state constitutional amendment that would make 17-year-olds eligible to vote in presidential elections.
“Voter empowerment and engagement has been and continues to be a cornerstone of my legislative agenda,” Mullin said in a statement. “Making California part of the early presidential primary process gives voters a more prominent voice.”
Statewide primaries in years when there is no presidential election would remain in June under both proposals. If the measures are passed in both houses, Gov. Jerry Brown would choose which he prefers, if either.
Lara said California’s position in the primary-season pecking order stifles voter participation. He reiterated that the state hasn’t factored heavily into either party’s nomination process since 1980. He hopes the bill will encourage candidates to spend more time campaigning in the Golden State.
“The prime-time primary bill would make us one of the first states to hold a presidential primary and ensure that our state’s voters will be heard on a national stage,” Lara said from the Senate floor.
In a similar effort to boost voter participation, the Legislature bumped California’s 2008 primary up to February and the swap resulted in the state’s largest voter turnout since 1980. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla supports SB 568.