Commentary: California voters may have rare opportunity in 2016

Issue Date: April 27, 2016
By Casey Gudel
Voters enter a Ventura County polling station in this photo from an earlier election. The 2016 primary election on June 7 could give Californians an unusual opportunity to influence presidential nominating contests.
Photo/Joseph Sohm,
Casey Gudel

For the first time in nearly 40 years, California voters could have an opportunity to help in deciding who will be the presidential nominees from both the Democratic and Republican parties. In past election cycles, the nominees have already been decided long before California's primary election on the first Tuesday in June, resulting in votes that really had no significant impact on the nominating races.

2016 may be different.

Each party's presidential nominee is decided through a series of primary elections or caucuses, where a certain number of delegates are awarded based upon the rules of each state and each party. As you'll likely recall from news coverage during the past few months, this year's primary calendar kicked off in February with the Iowa caucuses and will conclude in July with each party's national conventions. The Republicans will meet July 18-21 in Cleveland; the Democrats, July 25-28 in Philadelphia.

To become the Democratic nominee, a candidate must secure at least 2,382 of the 4,763 available delegates. On the other hand, the Republican nominee must secure at least 1,237 of the 2,472 delegates to win that party's nomination.

After last week's New York primaries, Hillary Clinton had secured 1,930 Democratic delegates and Donald Trump had secured 845 on the Republican side —giving each the inside track to their respective nominations but both short of the total needed.

A number of primaries will be held in the coming weeks, but the largest number of delegates left to be awarded will result from the California primary on June 7. While most on the Democratic side believe Clinton will be the nominee, Bernie Sanders has not backed down and recently opened a campaign office in California. California's Democratic delegates are distributed proportionally, depending on the number of votes each candidate receives.

On the Republican side, California could be the determining factor on whether or not Trump wins the nomination outright or will face a contested convention. In fact, Republicans in the most Democratic-leaning portions of California will have just as much say as those residing in the most Republican-leaning portions of the state. That's because Republican delegates will be distributed on a winner-take-all basis in each of California's 53 congressional districts, with the statewide winner receiving additional delegates.

It is important to note that the presidential primary contest does not fall under the "open primary" rules California established several years ago for state Assembly, state Senate or congressional races, which allow voters to select among candidates from any party. For the presidential primary, the parties are the ones that set the rules. That means only registered Republicans can vote for Trump, Ted Cruz or John Kasich, whereas those registered as a Democrat or "no party preference" can vote for Clinton or Sanders.

One area that sometimes creates confusion is with those registered as American Independent. A recent survey by the Los Angeles Times found that three out of four voters in the American Independent party didn't realize they were registering with a qualified party; they actually thought they were unaffiliated or "independent." In California, those who do not want to affiliate with a party should register as "no party preference."

If you aren't sure how you are currently registered, you can always check your registration status at your county elections office. Or, you can easily update your registration status by visiting the Secretary of State's website at

Unlike past elections, where the rural vote does not always play a big role, this time it very well could. Be sure to make your voice heard this election cycle!

(Casey Gudel is manager of political affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be contacted at


Key dates - California primary election

May 9 Vote-by-mail ballots are distributed
May 23 Deadline to register to vote or to change party registration
May 31 Last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot
June 7 Primary Election Day
June 10 Last day for ballots postmarked June 7 to be received

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.