Friday, January 24

Opinion editors: California’s primary should be earlier to play more important role

(Creative Commons by Danny Howard via Flickr)

With New York’s presidential primary a few days away, and with fewer and fewer states remaining in the race, there’s one fact that’s particularly tantalizing to Californians: For the first time in a long time, our vote will matter.

That’s because both the Republican and Democratic nomination races are close this year, which means Californian voters will actually have a say in which candidates receive the majority of delegates needed for the nomination.

And you know what? It’s nice to be a part of the process for once.

The reason California hasn’t mattered in years past is because its primary is so late. Though voting has been taking place since early February, California won’t get a say until June 7, a fact that has relegated the state to a mere afterthought in many a presidential primary.

Since each state gets to decide when to hold its primary, the solution is simple: Gov. Jerry Brown should split state nominations from the national nomination races, which should be held in March when a number of states vote. Brown must also provide a relatively small amount of state funding to ensure that county budgets can deal with the added costs.

The important thing is that Californians get a vote before candidates get a majority of delegates, which for all intents and purposes makes them the winner.

In all but the closest races, candidates will normally have a majority before California’s June primary. In 2008, Barack Obama won enough delegates to be declared the presumptive nominee on June 3. John McCain did the same in March. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the nomination in May.

This means that California, the third largest state with a top-10 global gross domestic product output and 12 percent of the U.S. population, has been rendered nearly irrelevant in the primary process. In contrast, Iowa and New Hampshire – the first two states to vote – are considered must-wins for any presidential hopeful, but have a combined population that’s less than half of the greater Los Angeles region.

This is a startling discrepancy. California deserves to be at the forefront of any discussion of presidential politics. While California voters have significant pull in the general election with 55 electoral votes – the largest number, followed by Texas’s 38 votes – the state has consistently voted Democratic in presidential elections since Bill Clinton’s first term and is only becoming more Democratic overall because of growing urban areas.

This essentially means California’s voice in the debate for the presidency is more relevant in the primary elections, which remain competitive in the state.

It wasn’t always so difficult for California’s primaries to matter. Until 2005, California actually held its primary in March, but high costs supposedly caused the state to move the primary calendar later. Counties shoulder a majority of costs for the election – which includes organizing voting locations and distributing information. And this can add up – the February 2008 presidential primary cost $96 million statewide, whereas legislators estimated moving the 2012 California primary to a later date saved the state tens of millions of dollars.

However, the slightly higher cost of an earlier primary is outweighed by the cost of California’s voices being silenced. Moreover, the state could easily pitch in more funds to help counties bear the burden.

If one thing should be clear though, it’s that holding a primary earlier matters. While Romney was named the 2012 Republican nominee before the California primary in June, the 2008 California primaries were held in February and were vital in deciding John McCain’s nomination at the time. Voters realized the futility of the June 2012 primary and turnout plummeted to 31 percent from almost 60 percent in 2008.

This year, races are much closer. FiveThirtyEight predicts that by June, presidential candidate Donald Trump will still not have the delegate majority needed to clinch the nomination and avoid the possibility of a contested convention. They predict Trump will have about 1,150 out of the 1,237 he needs for a majority. This means that despite the late primary, California will be instrumental in deciding whether a contested convention is possible with its 341 available delegates.

It’s not only the Republican primary that matters. In 2008 – when the state held its primary in February – candidate Hillary Clinton won more delegates than President Obama in California. Though Clinton ultimately would fail to win the nomination, California’s vote allowed her campaign to run a longer course and stimulate more debate.

By chance, this year’s primary will matter in California despite the lateness of the vote. But this is the exception that proves the rule. California mattering in a primary season should be the norm, and it’s up to the state government to take the steps to make that a reality.

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Catherine Liberty Feliciano was a news reporter and a staff representative on the Daily Bruin Editorial Board. She wrote stories about Westwood, research and student life. She dabbled in video journalism and frequently wrote #ThrowbackThursday blogs. Feliciano was an assistant Opinion editor in the 2015-2016 school year.


Ara Shirinian was an assistant opinion editor from 2015-16 and an opinion columnist from 2014-15. He writes about technology, transfer students and Westwood.

Opinion editor

Ryan Nelson was the Opinion editor from 2015-16 and a member of the Bruin Editorial Board from 2013-16. He was an opinion columnist from 2012-14 and assistant opinion editor in 2015. Alongside other Bruin reporters, Nelson covered undocumented students for the Bridget O'Brien Scholarship Foundation. He also writes about labor issues, healthcare and the environment.

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  • toto

    With the current state-by-state winner-take-all law for awarding electors, California voters do not have significant pull in the general election with 55 electoral votes. Voters in states that are reliably red or blue don’t matter. Candidates ignore those states and the issues they care about most. In the 2012 general election, only $320 (not a typo) was spent on TV ads in California, and there were no campaign events.

    The indefensible reality is that more than 99% of presidential campaign attention (ad spending and visits) was invested on voters in just the only ten competitive states in 2012.

    Two-thirds (176 of 253) of the general-election campaign events, and a similar fraction of campaign expenditures, were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa).

    38 states had no campaign events, and minuscule or no spending for TV ads.

    Analysts concluded months ago that only the 2016 party winner of Florida (29 electoral votes), Ohio (18), Virginia (13), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Iowa (6) and New Hampshire (4) is not a foregone conclusion.

  • toto

    To make it the norm that California voters will matter in every presidential general election, the National Popular Vote bill has been enacted by California.

    When it goes into effect every vote, everywhere, will be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support among voters) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable states, like California, that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country.

    It would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    The bill has passed 34 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.