Friday, February 17, 2023

Legislation Would Make the California Presidential Primary Date Unspecified

Here is an interesting one from California. 

Legislation introduced back in December  would strike out the phrase "first Tuesday after the first Monday in March" and replace it with "____" in the portion of the California electoral code that schedules the Golden state's consolidated primary in years evenly divisible by four.

One could wrangle over the implications, but in truth, SB 24, sponsored by Senator Thomas Umberg (D-34th, Santa Ana), is likely a temporary placeholder for a substantive change to the date of the presidential primary. It is either a change the senator would like to make/explore or an idea around which he would like to build consensus over the course of the 2023 legislative session.

There was a variation on this maneuver in California during the 2012 cycle. That bill went nowhere, but the separate California presidential primary was eventually eliminated and consolidated once again with the primaries for other offices in June. The 2017 change that pushed the presidential primary in the Golden state to Super Tuesday for 2020 moved the whole consolidated primary to March rather than separating the two elections. That is where the California presidential primary is currently scheduled.

As an aside, FHQ would argue that removing the date altogether from California electoral code would not be all that functionally different from the way that New York handles the scheduling of its presidential primary every four years. The protocol in the Empire state has been to set the parameters around which the presidential primary will be conducted and delegates allocated and then sunset the change after the presidential election year concludes. The date reverts to February and the state revisits the date every four years. Theoretically, it is the national party rules that force the reexamination of the primary's timing in New York. A February date is noncompliant and actors on the state level are at least somewhat compelled to make a change. Those New York legislators do not necessarily have to do that every four years -- the change does not have to sunset -- but that has been the standard operating procedure there dating back to the 2012 cycle

Functionally, a California law that would hypothetically leave a blank for the presidential primary date -- well, the consolidated primary in years evenly divisible by four -- would force the same sort of quadrennial reflection. However, that would be an atypical move. The New York method is already unique, but it at least has some justification. There is permanent guidance in the statute on where the primary should be scheduled. It just has to be changed from the February date every four years. 

It would be unusual for a state, California in this case, to provide no guidance for the timing of not just a presidential primary, but a primary for a host of other offices as well in presidential election years. 

Regardless, that blank will either be filled in at some point during this bill's consideration in 2023 or the legislation will likely not go anywhere. And it may not get beyond the committee stage anyway. 

But California always bears watching. Although it is a Democratic state, it is still the most populous state and the most delegate-rich state in the Republican presidential nomination process. If California packs it up and moves everything back to June, then that will have some impact on the Republican calculus of acquiring delegates, likely delaying when any candidate might clinch the nomination. 

This legislation has been added to FHQ's updated 2024 presidential primary calendar


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