Early Primary Date Excludes Young Voters

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion.

Jerome Paulos

Jerome Paulos

Jerome Paulos

Jerome Paulos

Jerome Paulos

Jerome Paulos

Every four years, American culture is consumed by the election of our next president. The process for this is well-known. First, each party holds a series of state primaries and caucuses to decide their nominee, then the two nominees run against each other in a national election. However, this year the primary process will look very different for Californians. In 2017, then-Governor Jerry Brown moved California’s primary from being one of the very last, on June 7, to near the start of the election season, on March 3, in order to make the California primary more influential. While this idea is appealing to many Californians, it was a mistake which will have adverse consequences on national politics.

First, it disenfranchises younger voters. Under current California law, 17 year olds cannot vote in primary elections, even if they’ll be 18 by the general. I was born on June 6. Under the old primary date, I would’ve turned 18 the day before the election and would’ve been eligible to vote. Now, the primary is months before my birthday and I can’t vote in it. Other young people born between March 3 and June 7 are disenfranchised in the same way. This disenfranchisement doesn’t just take away our ability to vote in the presidential primary. It also cuts us off from the other local elections held on that day, which include judicial elections, county supervisors, local Democratic Party leadership, and ballot measures relating to sales taxes and the funding of schools. While these elections don’t dominate the headlines like the presidency, their results still shape our lives. Because of their small size, they’re the elections where one individual vote can matter the most, as opposed to the massive amount of votes cast in statewide primaries. 

Second, it makes campaigns more expensive. When the primary was held in June, candidates didn’t have to run a real campaign in California because the primary had effectively been decided in earlier contests. Now that California matters in primary elections, candidates must campaign here and, because of our large population, campaigning here is expensive. In a 2016 interview with the New York Times, former California Senator Barbara Boxer said that running a campaign in California costs “4 million a week.” Data analysis website FiveThirtyEight estimates that over 68 million dollars have already been spent in TV ads this cycle; and that doesn’t count other expenses like online advertising or paid organizers. This means the election is more dependent on who can raise the most money, instead of which candidate is the best. 

So considering these two major downsides, why did Brown move up the primary date? Charitably viewed, it was an attempt to make his constituents more influential in national politics. Less sympathetically, it was a favor to the many California politicians who were considering a run for president, including Senator Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and billionaire Tom Steyer. Regardless of whether Brown was helping citizens or politicians, it was still the wrong choice. No matter whether or not it helped people in California, that isn’t worth distorting politics nationwide. There’s also the real question as to whether it even helped Californians, since many younger Californians are being disenfranchised. While moving the primary up can’t be undone for this cycle, it should be called out for the mistake that it was.