During the weekend, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that will move all non-presidential year primaries back to June.
Senate Bill 970, authored by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), would specifically change the primary date to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June in even-numbered years. The primary dates had been changed following the 2018 election to March to give California more influence during presidential primaries. However, SB 568, which then Governor Jerry Brown had signed into law in 2017, didn’t specify which primary elections would be covered, de fact covering them all. SB 970 corrected that, and will cover all state Senate and Assembly races, as well as the Gubernatorial race.
Senator Umberg authored SB 970 primarily as a way to combat long election cycles, as the 8-month election cycle has been seen as too long by many for non-presidential races. Moving primaries back to June in time for the 2022 election cycle will also give authorities enough time to redistrict maps correctly based on population. New challenges due to COVID-19, such as voter turnout and a greater by-mail voter percentage, would also benefit from a later election date, as factors such as more favorable weather would encourage more people to vote traditionally while also allowing people to vote by mail.
“I commend Governor Newsom for recognizing that non-presidential primaries should be reset to their traditional month of June,” said Senator Umberg in a statement on Monday. “The complexities of voting during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic have only served to highlight that we need to set our elections on schedules that are known and that will maximize voter turnout and engagement.”
“The redistricting process and its relation to the 2022 primary present us with a unique set of circumstances; by moving the non-presidential primary back to June we will provide state and local governments enough time to complete their required work. Put simply, this law will serve to allow redistricting teams proper time to create accurate district maps.”
“We need our democratic processes to have ample time to complete their work in light of the many challenges we are experiencing right now.”
SB 970 had a majority of support in both the Senate and Assembly, with only a handful of Republicans and Democrats either voting against it or abstaining, largely because of the confusion different dates could possibly present to voters.
“Right now we have a system of odd-years being June and even-years being March,” explained political consultant Sarah Wallace to the Globe in March. “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.”
“If anything, we need research on feasibility and if votership would go down with such a move.”
SB 970 will be law starting with the 2022 election cycle, with the primaries due to be set with new redrawn district boundaries for state Assembly and Senate districts, as well as new U.S. House districts based off of 2020 Census figures.