Press Releases

Senate votes to move state primary from March to August

By Steve Lawrence, The Associated Press
Wednesday May 29, 2002

SACRAMENTO — Agreeing that California’s primary election is too early to attract many voters, the Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would move the primary for state and congressional candidates from March to August. 

“Eight months between the primary election and the general election is just too long,” said Sen. Ross Johnson, R-Irvine. “Voters lose interest. Qualified candidates do not run for office.” 

Senators voted 26-4 to send the Assembly a bill by Johnson that would move the primary for state and congressional candidates from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in August. 

The presidential primary would remain on the first Tuesday in March, giving the state three statewide elections in presidential election years: the presidential primary in March, the state and congressional primary in August and the general election in November. 

California used to hold its primary election in June, but lawmakers voted to move the primary to March to assure that California voters had a role in picking presidential nominees. In most years, presidential nominations were wrapped up by the time Californians voted in June. 

Lawmakers decided to keep the primary in March even in non-presidential election years. That led to California having the earliest primary election in the nation this year and a record-low voter turnout of 34 percent. 

“Like a department store pushing Christmas items in April, the March primary did not attract very much interest,” Johnson said. “It was simply too early for most voters.” He said moving the primary closer to the general election would increase voter interest, help candidates recruit campaign volunteers and reduce fund-raising pressure on candidates. 

But Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, questioned whether moving the primary to August would boost voter turnout. “In August families pack up and they leave town,” she said. “I’m concerned this is going to diminish the vote. I agree that we have to change the date of the primary, but I’m not convinced that August is the way to go.”