California’s June primary will not really count in the long race for the Republican nomination like it should because the primary here is organized in a way that makes no sense. Instead of one presidential primary on June 7, we will have 54 contests.
One contest will be for the statewide winner, and that winner will take home only 10 of our 172 delegates. On the same day, New Jersey will have its primary which is winner take all, and will reward 51 delegates to the statewide winner. So where would you put your emphasis? And in addition to New Jersey, Montana and South Dakota will award another 56 delegates that day, all winner take all.
California awards 172 delegates, the largest of any state. But 159 delegates are awarded three each to the winner of 53 congressional districts (three party leaders are unpledged delegates). So essentially there are 53 contests in addition to the statewide race.
But not all Congressional districts are created equal, and this system discriminates against the heavily Republican districts that would likely favor Sen. Ted Cruz but where literally hundreds of thousands of votes will be wasted.
As an example, the 4th Congressional District in the foothills east of Sacramento contains 175,000 registered Republicans, the largest number of any district in the state, yet it will only elect three delegates. That is one delegate for every 58,000 Republicans. But in heavily Democratic Alameda County, the 13th Congressional district contains only 27,000 Republicans, the least number of any district. But it will also elect three delegates, or one for every 9,000 Republican voters.
Put a little differently, Orange County, the state’s most Republican county with 574,000 Republicans, will elect 18 delegates; while San Francisco and Alameda Counties combined, with only 139,000 Republicans will elect 15 delegates.
The system of awarding delegates by Congressional district not only discriminates against Republicans based on where they live, but very much discriminates against the most conservative Republicans.
This is not by accident. The Citizens Redistricting Commission, which drew California’s congressional districts in the 2011 redistricting, purposely concentrated conservatives into a small number of heavily Republican districts. That is why we have districts as overwhelmingly Republican as the 4th District.
The Commission, whose districting plan looked like the Democratic National Committee drew it, specifically targeted Republican incumbents for defeat, including former Reps. Dan Lungren (R-Sacramento), and Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley). In fact, congressional Republicans hated this plan so much they filed a lawsuit against it (disclosure: I was the expert witness for the congressional plaintiffs in this suit).
Yet these are the districts used to select the GOP delegates, and the one thing we know is that conservative Republicans receive far fewer delegates than their share of the votes under this arrangement. In 2008, Sen. John McCain won the lion’s share of California delegates over more conservative opponents, as did Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012.
So the big loser on June 7 is liked to be Sen. Cruz who is running as the conservative alternative to frontrunner Donald Trump. He is very likely to carry the heavily Republican 4th CD, represented by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove), who has endorsed him. But he will only win three delegates if he does so.
On the other hand, businessman Donald Trump is likely to have appeal in the more working class districts in the Bay Area and in central Los Angeles, heavily Democratic districts but that are each awarding three delegates. Ohio Gov. John Kasich could do well in a few suburban districts along the coast. But Trump will probably win more delegates than his percentage of the vote, while Cruz is likely to win fewer delegates than his percentage of the vote.
California once battled clean-up and settled the nominations in both parties, but that was when we awarded our delegates on a winner take all basis. If California wants to play a major role in the future it should return to winner take all.
But at the very least it should junk its system of awarding delegates based on biased and unbalanced congressional districts.