A new Senate bill will be introduced in the next few weeks with the goal of moving California’s Primary election for all non-presidential election years back to the month of June.
Under a rewritten Senate Bill 970, authored by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), a June primary date would be made official no later than the 2022 election. The race would include redistricted state Senate and Assembly races, as well as the Gubernatorial race.
The primary month switch only began last year due to the passage of SB 568 in 2017. It was passed largely to have California have more of a say early on in Presidential primaries.
“A state as populous and diverse as California should not be an afterthought. Moving up the California primary in 2020 makes sense and will give California voters a more significant role,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla in 2017. “By holding our primary earlier, we will ensure that issues important to Californians are prioritized by presidential candidates from all political parties.”
Supporters of the new SB 970, including Senator Umberg, have said that a March primary creates a long 8 month election cycle for races that don’t necessarily need it, with June offering only five months. Senator Umberg specifically noted that an 8 month election cycle would limit the number of people who could run because of an extra 3 months of costs. They also argue that state and local officials would have a much more compacted timeline to figure out redistricting in the state, as the population in California has shifted significantly since the last redistricting in 2011.
“Non-Presidential primaries should be set to their traditional date of June,” said Senator Umberg in a press release. “We need to set our elections on dates that will maximize voter turnout and engagement.”
“The redistricting process and its relation to the 2022 primary present a unique set of circumstances and by moving the non-presidential primary back to June we will be providing local government enough time to complete their required work.”
While the proposed bill changes have not yet drawn many detractors, some critics have noted that voters could be confused by the different dates.
“Right now we have a system of odd-years being June and even-years being March,” explained political consultant Sarah Wallace. “That was a tough sell in 2017. It did pass, but if you look at the votes, both Democrats and Republicans had people who opposed it, largely because of the perceived confusion it would cause.”
“We didn’t see too much this year, but if this passes, many might just assume it will be in March again and get upset or not vote or something. It seems like something simple and easy to understand, but you’d be surprised.”
“If anything, we need research on feasibility and if votership would go down with such a move.”
The updated SB 970 is expected to reach the Senate later in March.