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Governor Returns Primary to June

Signature on bill ends a futile effort to increase the state's clout in presidential elections.

September 28, 2004|Nancy Vogel and Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ended California's eight-year experiment with picking presidential candidates in March and signed a bill Monday to return the state's primary election to June, where it had been for five decades.

He also signed a bill requiring a paper trail for electronic voting systems used in California.

Lawmakers had moved the primary to March in an attempt to make California more influential in national party nominations. But other states similarly bumped up their elections, diluting the effect of California's vote. Instead, the earlier primary stretched out the campaign season and was marked by record-low voter turnout.

Democrats and Republicans agreed to end the experiment by passing SB 1730 by Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine) with only two no votes.

"It's been an utter failure," said Johnson chief of staff Susie Swatt. "It's been very difficult for voters to engage in an election season that comes on the heels of the Christmas season.

"We didn't get the added clout that we all thought we would, because everybody bounced over us," she said. "And it's resulted in us having the longest campaign season in the nation. You can fit spring training, the entire baseball season, the pennant race and the World Series in the time between our primary and general elections. We're turning voters off."

Lawmakers had moved the primary to March in 1996. In 2000, they merged it with the state primary election. In the 2002 primary, voter turnout was the lowest in California history. By the time California voted last March, 20 other states had already held elections, and Sen. John F. Kerry had taken a wide lead as the Democratic presidential nominee.

Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University, blamed the national Democratic and Republican parties for failing to create an orderly series of primaries to stop states from trying to leapfrog past each other.

"California, more than ever, will be totally out of the selection process," Gerston said. "It's clear that both major parties failed to control the process where all areas of the country could weigh in."

The upside of returning the primary election to June, he said, would be a shorter campaign season.

"Long campaigns wear people out," Gerston said. "Short campaigns energize them -- just look at the recall."

Schwarzenegger signed another Johnson bill, SB 1449, which passed the Legislature without a no vote. It tightens campaign finance rules to restrict candidates to no more than $100,000 in outstanding debt at any one time.

The new law, which takes effect immediately, closes a loophole that had allowed politicians to loan themselves more than $100,000 through banks. In his campaign to replace Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in the October 2003 recall election, Schwarzenegger, a Republican, loaned himself $4.5 million through banks.

"We believe that everybody should have the same playing field," Swatt said.

A third Johnson bill signed by the governor, SB 1438, requires that any electronic voting system approved by the secretary of state after January 2005 include a printout that voters can use to check the accuracy of their ballot.

In other action, the governor allowed special absentee voters living temporarily abroad, including military personnel, to return their ballots by fax. He signed AB 2941 by Assemblywoman Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel).

He also signed AB 384 by Assemblyman Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City), which prohibits adult and youth prison inmates from smoking. Bans are already in place in Wasco State Prison, the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo, and the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. The systemwide ban, which includes guards, takes effect in July 2005.

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