Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Election Correction

An astute political soothsayer may have warned the Governor not to make great declarations nor sign legislation on the Ides of March. Such an act might just summon the gods of unintended consequences and provoke them into action. Looks like it happened here. Whether warned or not, on March 15, 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill changing California’s presidential primary election date from the first Tuesday in June to the first Tuesday in February.

At the time, he stated, “California is important again in presidential nomination politics, and we will restore the voters’ confidence in government, and we will get the respect that California deserves, and our issues will get the due respect along the campaign trail and also in Washington.”
Hmmm. With all due respect, it’s not exactly how it all worked out. In moving California’s primary to Super Tuesday, we shared the date with nearly two dozen other states, very early in the campaign. Even at that early date, in this oddly front-loaded season, former Senator John Edwards had already dropped out and our state’s issues got lost in the candidates’ frantic race to gather delegates all across the country, all on the same day. The familiar friend of California, Sen. Hillary Clinton, walked away with the majority of the state’s Democratic delegates before many of the voters had an opportunity to get to know Sen. Barack Obama.
It wasn’t even much of a contest, and it came and went so fast, we hardly even noticed.
Instead, the issues of importance to voters who live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and even Kentucky, for goodness sake’s, became so well-known to voters across the country as they waited their turn to vote. The effects of NAFTA; the feasibility of “clean coal”; the concerns of “hard-working white people”; the wearing of flag pins; the ownership of guns; candidates’ responsibility for the words of religious leaders; and the exaggerated memory of events on a tarmac in Bosnia all became hotly reported national issues and shaped the race since our voting day on Super Tuesday.
If we were still voting for the Democratic presidential nominee on June 3, California—with 441 delegates at stake—would share the date with just Montana and South Dakota—with 25 and 23 delegates respectively. If our State legislators hadn’t switched the date, a white hot spotlight would be focused intensely on California’s issues.
Political consultants, newspapers, television and radio stations would be raking in the candidates’ dollars; the airwaves would be filled with commercials featuring candidates walking on the beaches, hiking redwood forests and inspecting solar panels and wind farms. Instead of appearing at diners, knocking back boilermakers and gobbling cheesesteaks, they’d be stopping at bistros, sipping chardonnay and nibbling on arugula—perhaps the only place in the country they wouldn’t be ridiculed for knowledge of salad ingredients beyond iceberg lettuce.
The national media would be reporting to the rest of the nation about matters of concern to Californians, including the environment, high-tech solutions to our economic woes, immigration, protection of our public lands and natural resources, offshore oil drilling, and devising a serious plan to end the war in Iraq. The perspectives of a diverse population of highly educated individuals would probably even matter more than they have in recent weeks; the candidates would be courting the votes of significant populations of California’s “ethnic” voters, including Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Middle Easterners, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Native Americans, and more. California would likely benefit long-term from the campaign promises of two candidates who would have to put their heart and soul into winning this race.
They would be making speeches and holding rallies throughout the Golden State, bringing an influx of cash with the massive entourage that would be excitedly reporting on every aspect of the California primary from one end of the state to the other. With the largest delegate prize in the country, the late-night returns would have likely determined, finally, the eventual Democratic nominee on the last primary of the election season.
Instead, once again, California’s primary ends up having little impact, ultimately, in the selection of the eventual nominee, this time lost in the shuffle. What could have, should have, would have been a dramatic, cliffhanger moment in the electoral calendar instead went away quietly months ago, because of the tinkering by those who were certain they knew exactly what they were doing.
Apparently, price was no object when officials decided to make a change in California’s primary significance. Turns out, holding the primary election of Feb. 5 cost the taxpayers of Santa Barbara County more than one million dollars, according to Chief Deputy Registrar Billie Alvarez. And we still have a primary election for state and local races scheduled for June 3, that will cost at least that much.
I’m reminded about last November’s Measure A. That controversial city ballot measure proposed to consolidate local and national elections, and claimed to save money and increase voter participation. Santa Barbara’s electorate soundly rejected the notion of rescheduling our local election cycle. Opponents suggested local issues would get lost in the process. Judging from the way California’s significance has been diminished in the primary season, when exactly the opposite was promised, it looks like the local voters got it right. Santa Barbarans didn’t need a crystal ball to figure out what State Legislators and the Governor should have known: the law of unintended consequences cannot be ignored.

Cheri Rae’s column appears every Thursday in the Daily Sound. E-mail her at


Anonymous said...

For the last few decades, the primary contests have been decided waaaaaay before now, and California would get no love. Now, it probably shouldn't have been moved to big Super Tuesday, but I don't think anyone foresaw the kind of dragout in the Democratic that's occurred.

David Pritchett said...

My friend Cheri is spinning some seriously flawed logic here with her analogy with the Santa Barbara City ballot Measure A-2007.
All election re-schedules are not the same.

The State split our election this year for the Presidential election to be held in February and essentially local and State issues to be in June per tradition.

The outcome is that the taxpayers pay a lot more to run two separate elections and voter turnout is very low when local issues are held in separate elections not consolidated with national or federal elections.

That is a fact with a consistent trend as far back as the voter participation data are available.

Does anyone really think that this upcoming June 3rd election will yield anything short of a dismal sub-40 percent voter turnout??

The Law of Unintended Consequences is that the separate June election will cost the taxpayers more money and yield lower voter turnout.

Although this would have required a lot more advanced planning by State Deciders, the items on the June ballot actually should have been moved up to coincide with the February national election, so voter turnout would have been far higher for local issues to get attention.

California moved up the Presidential primary election because no one with enough influence at the time believed that the Presidential race would still be so close so late in the process here in June.

jqb said...

For the last few decades, the primary contests have been decided waaaaaay before now

Contrary to Hillary's BS (of which she seems to have a plentiful supply). The 1968 primary was not the norm.