Local News

On the 2020 Primary

On March 3, California will hold a primary election.  Although you may have voted in past primaries and understand that their principal purpose is to select candidates for the November general election (directly for state and local offices and via conventions for the presidential contest) the process is not that simple. Even the opening sentence above is not exactly correct: there is not “a” single primary election; and you can vote on days other than March 3 (in fact I would recommend not voting on March 3 since there will be only 8 “voting centers” in Fullerton, if I read my map correctly).

Beginning with this election, voters will have the option to drop their ballot in one of many drop boxes. Photo by Jane Rands.

There is much that is new and different about this year’s primary election. It is especially complex if you are registered as having No Party Preference; and you may find that you have to be pro-active if you want to vote in a presidential primary.

First, the entire method of voting in Orange County has changed this year. You cannot just walk over to your neighbor’s garage, wait in line, get your ballot and vote. These changes are discussed elsewhere in this issue and will not be mentioned further. This article is not about how you get your ballot, fill it out and submit it. This is about who and what you are actually voting for and what difference this primary is likely to make.

Second, the major complication is that this is not a single primary election run by a single entity: there is the presidential primary which is getting all of the attention (on the Democratic side).Then there is the primary election for the remaining offices on the ballot (which for simplicity will be referred to as the “state primary.”) Since the state primary is more easily understood let’s treat this one first. If you are a registered voter, regardless of affiliation or non-affiliation you are qualified to vote in the state primary. This is an open, non-partisan election for non-presidential offices with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, moving on to the November general election.  In some cases, this will mean that there will be contests in November with only Republicans or only Democrats listed. On this ballot are also a statewide proposition and two bond measures.

There are several important contests in this state primary, although the outcomes of some are a forgone conclusion. For most voters in Fullerton there are contests for the 39th Congressional District (Gil Cisneros and Young Kim will be the winners), 29th State Senate district (Josh Newman and Ling Ling Chang winners), 65th Assembly District (Sharon Quirk-Silva and Cynthia Thacker are the only candidates) and the Orange County Board of Education, 4th District, where there is a contest. The Board of Education race is important since it is split on several issues including the budget, charter schools, and sex education.

There are three Democrats and one Republican in this non-partisan election. The Republican is La Habra Mayor Tim Shaw who lost to Doug Chaffee for the Board of Supervisors last time around. The Democrats are Anaheim Councilmember Jordan Brandman and Fullertonians Vicki Calhoun and Paulette Marshall Chaffee, both of whom ran for City Council in the 5th district against the successful Ahmad Zahra. Chaffee, who moved into the district to run, withdrew from the race after she was found removing signs labelling her a “carpetbagger.” The signs you currently see around town for Chaffee are for Paulette, not Doug.

There is also a statewide School and College Facilities Funding bond on the ballot (misleadingly labeled Proposition 13, a number that should have been retired years ago) as well as bond measures for the Fullerton School District and for the Fullerton Joint Union High School District. The chances of those issues passing may be enhanced since the turnout in this primary will no doubt skew Democratic and Democrats tend to support education ebond more than Republicans.

The presidential primary election is partisan. It is run by the parties and each has its own rules. In effect there is not a single presidential primary election but 6 different presidential primary elections: Democratic, Republican, Green, Libertarian, American Independent, and Peace and Freedom. This is not important if you are a member of a party and want to vote for one of that party’s candidates. It is more complicated for those registered as No Party Preference. The Democrats, Libertarian and American Independent parties will let you vote in their primary by requesting a ballot. If you want to vote in the primaries of one of the other three parties, you will have to re-register to that party (and you can change it back again afterwards). If you are a registered party member, you can only vote in that party’s primary.

For many years the California primary was held in June. March is a long way from the November election, more than the length of the baseball season which at times seems endless. However, many influential leaders in the state decided that California was an afterthought in the presidential primary process; by the time June rolled around the candidates had the election locked up, so there was no campaigning in California, our issues were not discussed, and the money being thrown around by candidates was not spent here.

Since 1996 the dates of the primary have changed multiple times and in 2008 the dates of the two primaries were even separated, the presidential one being held in February and the statewide in June. These attempts to make California more of a player have had mixed results at best, but for this year, at least, both contests are being held on March 3.

There is little evidence that a lot of campaign money is being spent in California; and there are several reasons why the California (Democratic) primary will not have much impact on the presidential race.  First, there are 13 other states having primaries or caucuses on the same day (known as Super Tuesday). The outcome in California will be just one of many and in most cases it is less expensive to campaign in smaller states and the outcome of victories in several smaller states may have more impact than in a single large state. And in California, since so many votes are cast by mail-in ballots and can be postmarked as late as election day, the results may not be known for another month (remember the long count for the 29th Senate district which Josh Newman won in 2018). Most impact will be lost.

More important is that the primary is not structured to produce a winner. There was a time when most primaries were winner-take-all and there were clear winners. The candidate with the most votes, even if not 50%, got all the delegates to the national convention. That was hardly fair, but it did produce winners. The current system is more or less proportional: that is, if you get 20 percent of the vote, you get 20 percent of the delegates. This is much fairer but does not produce a clear-cut winner.

But it is even more complicated than that.  California will have 495 (out of 3979) delegates at the National Convention in July in Milwaukee. Only 416 of those delegates will be selected on March 3. (The others will be unpledged party leaders.) Two hundred seventy-two of those 416 will be apportioned at the congressional district level (there are 53 districts). The other 144 will be apportioned based on the statewide vote. But a candidate must receive at least 15% of the vote, district or statewide, to get any delegates.

The biggest impact of this primary will be to eliminate weaker candidates. It will probably not put much space between the leaders. It is a nice exercise in democracy, But California will not be a king (or queen)-maker.