Seeking Clout, California Looks at Earlier Primaries

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A Los Angeles lawmaker announced a bill Tuesday that would move California up in the primary-season pecking order and give the nation’s most populous state a greater stake in the presidential nomination process.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, says California’s role in electing presidential candidates has become watered down because its primaries are traditionally held in June – among the latest of all 50 states. He wants California’s more than 19 million registered voters to have a larger impact and vote third, after Iowa and New Hampshire.

“California is leading the nation on clean air, criminal-justice reform and expanding health care for all, and moving up our presidential primary will ensure our state’s voters are heard in the national debate,” Lara said in a statement.

Under Senate Bill 568, California’s primary elections would be held on the third Tuesday of March or at an earlier date chosen by the governor. It would also align the dates of presidential primary elections with statewide primary elections.

Proponents say moving up the Golden State’s primary elections by three months will attract new voters and potentially force candidates to spend more time campaigning in California.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, said that by the time Californians voted in the 2016 primary, then-presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had essentially secured their party’s nominations.

“As the world’s sixth largest economy with the nation’s largest population, it’s absurd that California had no real say in who the presidential candidates would be,” Mullin said in a statement.

California last held a winter primary in February 2008, but state voters have traditionally cast their votes in June. As a result, candidates often skip over traditionally blue California in favor of states that vote earlier in the primary process.

Mullin is a pushing a similar bill, Assembly Bill 84, which proposes moving the state’s primaries to Super Tuesday. With California’s large number of absentee voters, Mullin hopes that an earlier primary will commit candidates to campaign – rather than simply fundraise – in the Golden State.

In 2016, 13 states and territories held elections on Super Tuesday, the first Tuesday in March.

Under AB 84, statewide primary elections would remain in June in years when there isn’t a presidential election.

Mullin is also the coauthor of a state Constitutional Amendment that would allow 17-year-olds to vote in California’s general elections.

Lara says his bill will be first heard next week by the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, while Mullin’s proposal is scheduled for an Assembly committee hearing on April 26. Both proposals require approval by a simple majority.

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