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California Moves Up 2020 Primary Elections To March

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill to move up primary elections without comment.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill to move up primary elections without comment.

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill to move California's primary elections in 2020 to the beginning of March, three months ahead of when they were held in 2016.

It's a move designed to increase the influence of the country's most populous state in deciding presidential candidates. By the June California primary elections in 2016, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were already their parties' presumptive nominees.

"Candidates will not be able to ignore the largest, most diverse state in the nation as they seek our country's highest office," California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement about the bill called the Prime Time Primary Act. "California has been a leader time and time again on the most important issues facing our country—including immigration, education, and the environment. The Prime Time Primary Act will help ensure that issues important to Californians are prioritized by presidential candidates from all political parties."

The legislation will also consolidate and move up congressional primary elections to the same day in March. It takes effect at the beginning of 2019, with the elections now falling on "on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March," which will be March 3, 2020.

The change means California will be joining other states in what's called "Super Tuesday," when several states vote simultaneously in primary elections. The political blog Frontloading HQ lists eight states scheduled to vote in primaries that day.

California's chair of the Democratic Party, Eric Bauman, said the move was "common sense to ensure that grassroots activists, donors and everyday Democratic voters from the largest and most progressive state in the Union should have a major role in deciding the Democratic Presidential nominee." He called California "the beating heart of the national resistance to Trump," which could "play a pivotal role in selecting a progressive champion" to face Trump in 2020.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, who authored the bill, Secretary of State Padilla and California Gov. Brown are all Democrats. Politico reports that the early election could benefit California Sen. Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who are both possible Democratic presidential candidates. California is heavily Democratic.

Lara, in what's likely a thinly veiled criticism of President Trump, said in a statement, "We have a responsibility to drive a different agenda at the national level and promote inclusion and consensus not the politics of division."

Many Democratic leaders in California have pledged to make their state a voice of opposition to Trump's policies.

California moved its primary to February in the 2008 election, which resulted "in the highest voter turnout for a primary election since 1980," according to Padilla. The state also moved its primaries to March for 2004, 2000 and 1996 after decades of holding a June primary. Gov. Brown moved the timeline back to June in 2011, in what the Los Angeles Times reported was an effort to save money.

Elections in March, however, mean that "[e]verything else gets backed up correspondingly," California Republican Party chair Jim Brulte told Capital Public Radio's Ben Bradford. "Fundraising has to start earlier, organizational development has to start earlier. And then you have a huge gap from March until the November election."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.