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PD Editorial: More headaches than excitement with early primary

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It isn’t yet Halloween 2019, but the 2020 campaign season is in well underway.

A dozen Democrats sparred in the fourth presidential primary debate Tuesday in Ohio, and five Sonoma County supervisorial candidates talked housing, homelessness, health and taxes Wednesday at a forum sponsored by the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber.

We aren’t trying to spook anyone, but the March 3 primary is 138 days away.

Mail ballots will go out a month earlier. With as many as two-thirds of the votes being cast by mail, don’t be surprised if you find candidates instead of carolers on your doorsteps in December and slate mailers mixed in with your Christmas cards.

If it all seems a little early, well, it is.

California lawmakers moved the primary up three months, hoping that presidential candidates, many of whom rake in lots of money from Golden State donors, would devote some time to campaigning here instead of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. What is it they say about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

Holding an early primary didn’t boost California’s influence in 1996, or 2000, or 2004.

Or in 2008, when the primary was pushed up to Feb. 5, quickly followed by so many other states that Election Day was dubbed “Tsunami Tuesday.”

With 13 other states holding primaries on March 3, we doubt 2020 will be any different.

This time, however, all of the other primary elections are moving up, too. The last time that happened was 2000.

For local voters, that means contests for three seats on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will be on the March 3 ballot, along with two seats in Congress (Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson), one in the state Senate (Bill Dodd) and three in the state Assembly (Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Marc Levine and Jim Wood.) The supervisors are expected to put a sales tax increase for fire protection on the primary ballot, SMART is seeking voter-approval for an extension of its sales tax, there’s a $15 billion state school bond, and the deadline to add more ballot measures is Dec. 6.

The editorial board will soon start interviewing candidates, studying ballot measures and making recommendations.

Combining the primaries will save taxpayers the expense of holding a second election for local, state and congressional offices in June — and, given the abysmal turnout when the state and presidential primaries were separated in 2004 and 2008, it’s likely that more voters will decide local offices and measures.

However, candidates will have to wait until November for any run-off elections and, should they win outright in the primary, until January 2021 to take office.

California has tried time and again to flex some political muscle with an early primary. A combined primary hasn’t turned California into a presidential primary battlefield, but it does turn local elections into year-long affairs. Holding two primaries drove up the cost and undercut voter turnout in local elections.

It makes absolutely no sense to turn elections into a protracted and costly process. Let’s stop tinkering and return to a June primary.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com.

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