In summary

Moving California presidential primary to an earlier date helped shape the presidential nominating process and focus candidates’ attention on state issues.

By Alex Padilla, Special to CalMatters

Alex Padilla is California Secretary of State, Secretary.Padilla@sos.ca.gov.

Many pundits questioned California’s decision to move our presidential primary election to an earlier date. The fact that the winner of the California Democratic Primary did not become the party’s nominee has only served as fuel for the skepticism.

Simply picking the winner was never my objective, and moving up the primary was a clear win for California.

I wanted Californians, of all political parties, to vote early enough to shape the presidential nominating process and influence the national debate. By voting earlier we can demand that candidates take our voters and our issues seriously — and not simply use California as a political ATM.

It is abundantly clear that California received more presidential candidate attention than we have in years. The Sacramento Bee tracked 458 campaign visits to the Golden State by Democratic candidates alone. While most of these events took place in our major metropolitan areas, candidates also held public events in the Central Valley, Inland Empire and beyond. When was the last time that happened?

Further, candidates weighed-in on hot button California issues. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for example, authored an op-ed in support of Assembly Bill 5, while several other candidates weighed in with statements on this high profile legislative measure.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg made large investments in comprehensive field campaign operations in the state. Sanders, who won the most votes in the California Democratic Primary, hosted mega-rallies in Northern and Southern California the weekend before Super Tuesday. Vice President Joe Biden, now the presumptive Democratic nominee, spent Super Tuesday in California and held his election night event in Los Angeles.

While the winner of the California Democratic Primary did not become the nominee, Biden’s late charge into second place here (along with his first-place finish in 10 other Super Tuesday states) significantly narrowed Sanders’ delegate haul. Yes, California played a significant role in Biden’s ascent to front runner status.

And more fundamental than the political implications of our earlier presidential primary, it was a compelling win for voter participation.

As the final few counties conclude their vote counting and post-election audits, it is clear that a record number of Californians were registered to vote and a record number ballots were cast in the 2020 California Presidential Primary. Going into Super Tuesday, more than 21.6 million voters were on the rolls, a record high and the highest percentage of eligible voter registration in 68 years.

Nearly 9.7 million voters cast ballots, a new primary record. Turnout of our eligible voting age population was the second highest for a primary in the past 38 years — eclipsed only by the 2008 presidential primary turnout, which featured open, competitive primaries in both major parties.

There will always be elements of the presidential nominating contests outside of our control. Who could have predicted multiple candidates for president dropping out within days of Super Tuesday? But as long as California is voting in “prime time,” our votes will matter. And that’s good for all Californians, regardless of who the ultimate winner is.

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Alex Padilla is California Secretary of State, Secretary.Padilla@sos.ca.gov.

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