Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More on the California Bill to Move Presidential Primary Back to June

After the introduction of AB 80 last week -- the bill that would move California's presidential primary back to June -- FHQ contacted Assemblymember Fong's (the bill's sponsor) office to inquire about the motivation behind the effort. I had assumed that it was a cost-saving measure and that the national party rules proposing sanctions on all February states would be part of the equation. It turns out they were (see summary and background below the break), but I was surprised to see the "not enough bang for our buck" argument.

Let me explain. Arkansas moved its presidential primary early in 2005 to the first Tuesday in February for the 2008 cycle. Then Hillary Clinton decided to run for the Democratic nomination. Then Mike Huckabee decided to run for the Republican nomination. All the while a bevy of states -- California included -- opted to hold their delegate selection events on the same early February date. As February 5, 2008 approached the candidates on both sides ceded the Natural state to its favorite son and daughter and Arkansas was lost among candidate visits and news coverage of contests in other February 5 states. Now, Arkansas had a reasonable gripe. Why spend all that money on a separate presidential primary and get essentially nothing out of it?

Why indeed? That's why legislators in Arkansas moved the state's presidential primary back to its traditional May position during the 2009 legislative session.

But does that same argument work in California? No, California, like Arkansas, didn't have the stage all to itself on February 5, but as long as most states follow the national party rules and subsequently cluster around the earliest allowable date, no state is going to have that luxury. Unlike Arkansas, however, the Golden state did receive many more candidate visits than the other February 5 states. In fact, the total number of visits to California only trailed four other states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida).

The question remains, though. Were those 155 total candidate visits enough bang for the cost the state incurred for holding for the first time a separate presidential primary from its primaries for state and local offices? FHQ has asked the staff of the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee for an estimate of the savings they would expect if AB 80 passed and became law. Once they have heard back from the secretary of state's office later in the session, they will have that figure. My guess is that is still not going to look like it is worth it compared to the attention Iowa and New Hampshire get. That said, no state is going to get that kind of attention unless the government there decides to break the national party rules to a degree never witnessed in the post-reform era.


AB 80 (Fong): Presidential Primary


This bill saves the state and local governments millions of dollars by eliminating California's stand-alone presidential primary election in February and instead consolidating it with primary elections for other offices in June.


In 2007, the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, Senate Bill 113 (Calderon), Chapter 2, Statutes of 2007, to move the State's presidential primary from June to the first Tuesday in February. At the time, the intent behind moving up the primary was to encourage presidential candidates to campaign in California, and to debate and discuss issues and policies important to the people of this state, while also to encourage voter registration, voter interest, and voter participation in the 2008 election.

Consequently, in 2008 California held its presidential primary on February 5th. However, by the time California voters cast their ballots 33 other states had also moved up their presidential primaries. Fifteen states held their presidential primary on the same day as California, limiting California's influence on the selection of presidential candidates.

In August of 2010, the Republican and Democratic National Committees adopted policies that prohibit any type of selection process for presidential candidates, via election or caucus from occurring prior to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March, with the exception of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada who are permitted to begin their processes at any time on or after February 1.

These policies are intended to discourage the trend of early primary elections because the earlier the primary, the longer the period of time between the primary and general elections, which could result in lower voter turnouts and increased costs of campaigning by lengthening the campaign season.

While a state is free to schedule its presidential primary election or caucus whenever it wants, it may face sanctions at the national convention if its election or caucus is held at a time or in a manner that violates the national party rules.

In addition, current law requires the 2012 presidential primary to occur on the first Tuesday in February and prohibits it from being consolidated with the statewide direct primary to be held in that year - meaning, California would be required to hold 3 separate statewide elections in 2012, imposing a huge cost on the state and local governments at a time when our state's fiscal situation is in crisis.

AB 80 will eliminate the state's stand-alone presidential primary election and consolidate it with other primary elections, saving the state and local governments tens of millions of dollars on avoided election costs, as well as conform California law to national party rules.

AB 80

AB 80 does the following:

    Requires the presidential primary to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June of each year evenly divisible by the number four.

    Requires the presidential primary election to be consolidated with the statewide direct primary that is held in that year.

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