Monday, July 9, 2018

Idaho Democrats Announce Shift from "Unwieldy" Caucuses to State-Funded Presidential Primary for 2020

Betsy Z. Russell writing for the Idaho Press:
Idaho Democrats will switch to a presidential primary, rather than a caucus, for the next presidential election in 2020.  
The party announced the change during its state party convention Saturday at the College of Idaho in Caldwell.  
“We’re looking to move to a system that we have a primary, so that everybody can vote,” said Van Beechler, the party’s first vice chair.  
Party Chairman Bert Marley said, “It’s been obvious the last couple presidential elections that the caucus system for us, in most parts of the state, is pretty unwieldy.”
And it is exactly that "pretty unwieldy" part that has been a common bond among those states that have either moved to primaries or have signaled that such a move was on the way for the 2020 cycle. Colorado, Maine, and Minnesota all made the change in 2016, the legislature in Utah added funding for a presidential primary to the budget, and Democrats in Nebraska and Washington have both voted on or voiced support for a transition from caucuses to a primary.

In each case, the administrative and financial burdens to the state parties were raised in the argument for a switch to a primary. Participation was up enough in caucus states across the board to nudge up administrative snafus and with it, the attendant disgruntlement with the process from those who were able to withstand long lines and longer meetings.

Idaho was no exception to this trend. But then, even with a state-funded option available to the state Democratic Party, the organization stuck with the caucuses for 2016. Much of that decision has to do with the on-again off-again nature of the presidential primary in the state. The state Republican Party opted for early March caucuses for the 2012 cycle in 2011, and Republicans in control of the Gem state legislature followed that by eliminating the presidential primary option in 2012.

Idaho Republicans reversed course for 2016. The party passed a resolution to trade in the once-utilized caucus system for a primary in February 2015, and then the Republican-controlled legislature passed legislation to re-establish the primary in spring 2015. This left Idaho Democrats little time to adapt while devising a delegate selection plan due to the Democratic National Committee by the early parts of May 2015.

But even with that excuse, Idaho Democrats have never had a post-reform relationship with the presidential primary that has been on the books in the state. The historical reasons have been twofold. First, the primary was always scheduled late, often after many presidential nomination races had been resolved. But second, the primary was always open, which the parties at state and national levels have tended to resist.

Those historical reasons for opting into the caucus system despite a state-funded primary option are now gone in Idaho. When state Republicans re-established the primary in 2015, it was scheduled for March (earlier in the process than had traditionally been the case) and gave the state parties the option of allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in the primary.

As Idaho Democratic Party Chair Bert Marley recently said at the state convention:
“This is the system that’s in place — we’re [Idaho taxpayers] paying for it, we’re going to use it.”
And with that, add Idaho to list of states moving toward primaries for 2020.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Rules and Bylaws Committee Gives Initial Greenlight to Revamp of Superdelegates System

At each voting stage along the way to superdelegate rules reform for the 2020 cycle, the final tally has seemingly demonstrated consensus. And there has been consensus on the Unity Reform Commission and now during the Rules and Bylaws Committee consideration of changes. But it has been hard-won consensus often following multiple hours-long meetings over the last 13 months spent exploring various contingencies in the hopes of avoiding some unintended consequence while also planning for the future.

Like the Unity Reform Commission before it, the Rules and Bylaws Committee gave the go-ahead today to a reform proposal to curb the influence of superdelegates with just a couple of dissenting votes (27 ayes, 1 nay, 1 abstention). However, unlike the URC, the RBC called an audible and devised an alternate proposal not prescribed it in the preceding step. The URC was given strict guidelines on superdelegates by the 2016 convention resolution that created the group. What the resolution called for, the URC produced. Two variations on the same concept were created to move 60 percent of the superdelegates from the unpledged to bound category.

The issue that quickly emerged once those two URC recommendations -- the pooled vote option and the alternate vote option -- transitioned to the RBC for its consideration was the complexity of both implementing and explaining either option. The desire on the group to balance doing something on superdelegates, staying true to the charge of the convention resolution (reducing the influence of superdelegates), and devising a more parsimonious reform laid the groundwork for what the RBC passed today.

At the confluence of those three criteria, the third way proposal first raised at the first of two March RBC meetings would remove superdelegates from the nomination equation on the first ballot presidential nomination vote at the convention. Should that vote prove inconclusive, then the less-super delegates -- now probably better referred to as automatic delegates -- would be able to participate in a second ballot to rectify an unresolved first ballot vote.

But that proposal was augmented at the June meeting in Providence. RBC member, Ken Martin, offered a friendly amendment, leaving an opt-in for superdelegate participation in the event that primary season has produced a conclusive result, a presumptive nominee with the requisite number of delegates to claim the nomination.

During today's conference call meeting, the RBC quickly dispatched with the two URC proposals for the same issues of complexity before the group turned its sights to Martin's third way plus, brought forth on a motion from longtime RBC member, Elaine Kamarck. The group then spent the next two hours attempting lay out/iron out the details of the plan. What they passed is intended to curb the influence of superdelegates by conditionally removing the unpledged delegates from first ballot at the convention.

The conditions of those contingencies for superdelegate participation fall into three categories.
  1. If a candidate wins 50 percent of the pledged delegates plus one during or by the end of primary season, then the superdelegates are barred from the first ballot.
  2. If a candidate wins 50 percent of all of the delegates (including superdelegates) plus one, then the superdelegate opt-in is triggered and that faction of delegates can participate in the first (and only) round of voting.
  3. If no candidate wins a majority of either pledged or all delegates during or by the end of primary season, then superdelegates are barred from the first round and allowed in to vote in the second round to break the stalemate.
Importantly, the first contingency allows a candidate to win without superdelegates, while the second deprives superdelegates through a supermajority requirement the ability to overturn the pledged delegate majority scenario in the first contingency.

The language of the motion passed today will be tinkered with between now a July 11 meeting in Washington to finalize the language of the call, delegate selection rules, and bylaws/charter changes. But this test vote of sorts portends easy passage when the official language of the third way plus reform comes up for a final vote.

Yes, there is much more to be said about this proposal -- FHQ raised a few issues just recently -- but there will be time to discuss that more in the days ahead. For now, it is sufficient that there is a specific proposal to reform the superdelegates' influence in the nomination process that has passed initial muster with the RBC.


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Related:
Real-time thread on RBC conference call



Further details on what the Third Way proposal


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Third Way? Third Way Plus? The Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee Again Revisits Superdelegates

The Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) once again took up the issue of superdelegates and 2020 at its recent meeting in Providence (the one on June 8 that ran concurrent with the DNC Executive Committee meeting).

On some level, one could argue that battle lines were drawn. However, it was yet another incremental push toward an altered treatment of the fraction of Democratic national convention delegates who have been unpledged in past cycles. Much of the work of the previous four 2018 meetings of the RBC have centered on the two plans that emerged from the Unity Reform Commission report. But both the complexity of those two reform proposals and the fact that the changes required to implement either of them would require an amendment to the charter of the Democratic Party -- and thus a two-thirds supermajority vote of the full DNC -- set the bar for passage quite high.

As those plans have lost steam another gained traction. First raised at the first of two March RBC meetings, the plan now dubbed the Third Way would make the first vote on the presidential nomination at the national convention one tabulated based on the votes of just the pledged delegates; removing the automatic, unpledged delegates -- superdelegates -- from the initial equation. That simpler approach would also prove easier to implement on the front end. Only a simple majority of the DNC would be necessary to shepherd the reform over the finish line. It is that combination of factors that has, at least in part, won the Third Way option the backing of DNC chair Tom Perez.

But in the back and forth in Providence among RBC members over how the national convention roll call vote would be designed and handled under a Third Way scenario, there was some resistance to prohibiting superdelegate participation on the first ballot presidential nomination vote. FHQ will save a discussion of the bulk of that series of exchanges for another post. For now, I want to focus on one specific counterproposal -- friendly amendment -- to the Third Way: Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chair and Association of State Democratic Chairs (ASDC) chief, Ken Martin's Third Way Plus.

The rationale behind Martin's proposal is to add a caveat to the Third Way plan; an exemption of sorts. If the pledged delegate count at the end of primary season is conclusive -- there is a clear winner -- then there is no need to prohibit superdelegate participation in the first ballot presidential nomination vote. If those unpledged delegates cannot overturn the will of the voters, as the charge against superdelegates often goes, then there is no need to bar them.

In effect, that would make the final tally -- the final delegate count -- an actionable datapoint; an opt-in for the party in terms of superdelegate participation in the initial round. Either a candidate will have accrued a conclusive level of pledged delegates by the second Tuesday in June or they will have not.

Although the caveat is a potentially helpful bridge to those on the RBC and within the DNC opposed to stripping superdelegates of their vote in the first round, the real import in Martin's proposal is in the trigger mechanism. But it is a flawed mechanism.

It is flawed because it is potentially built on wishful thinking. Wishful in that the process will work the way it normally does. Candidates will run. Candidates will withdraw from the race as wins and losses are tabulated and delegates won. And all of them but one will drop out as the war of attrition plays out and/or once one candidate wins 50 percent plus one of the requisite number of delegates. And that may happen.

But it also may not. The scenario that has often been spoken about is one where a large field of 2020 Democratic candidates winnows slowly enough under proportional allocation rules to keep some candidate from a majority of delegates before the convention. Under that set of circumstances, the plus in Third Way Plus is left unactivated and the party ends up with one of two options. On the one hand, there is some maneuvering among the party, the candidates, and their pledged delegates/delegations ahead of the convention that gets a candidate to a simple majority level of support.

Alternatively, that first vote is devalued as the convention approaches. The second vote -- the one with superdelegates -- then, becomes the "real" vote. The convention goes through the motions on the first vote, it stalemates in a manner that reflects the end-of-primary-season delegate count, and the superdelegates are added to the equation on the second vote to resolve the nomination. One could hypothesize that the former is more likely the closer the plurality primary season winner is to the 50 percent plus one mark in the delegate count while the odds of the latter increase the smaller the share of delegates the plurality winner has.

Neither route is what one would consider "clean". Then again, any path taken in a sequential nomination system offers up its own quirks, roadblocks, and problems. But this is a quirk, a roadblock, a problem, or a scenario for which the RBC is not exactly planning.

And look, it is easy for someone outside the process to critique the efforts of rules makers. Those rules makers -- regardless of party -- have to weigh not only the future but account for the past, and particularly the pressures from parts of the broader party coalition to right the wrongs, real or perceived, of past cycles. Often those goals do not match; do not mesh well. For Democrats in the current context to plan for 2020, they have to address lingering issues from 2016. And while relevant in the context of 2016, those issues -- superdelegates or otherwise -- may not matter in the same way during and through the next iteration of the nomination system.

None of this is to suggest that superdelegates do not represent a real or perceived problem. However, it requires of the RBC a fair amount of balancing across a number of different dimensions, not just the 2016 versus 2020 one.

But how well does the Third Way or the amended Third Way Plus even -- partially or completely -- resolve the superdelegate-related issues leftover from 2016? That is worth exploring.
  • Neither plan gets rid of superdelegates. Nor, in fact, did either of the two proposals that emerged from the Unity Reform Commission (URC). The Third Way options reduce the influence of superdelegates by removing them from the first round of nomination voting at the convention (or in the case of the Plus, only if primary season was inconclusive). The two URC plans allowed superdelegates to retain their automatic status (They would remain delegates; delegates with their positions reserved rather than those that have to run for delegate positions.), but sought to bind 60 percent of those automatic delegates to candidates based on the results of primaries and caucuses. 
  • Neither plan completely prevents the controversial type of early influence superdelegates had in 2016. That ability of superdelegates to endorse early remains intact. That act -- an endorsement -- just would not count towards an evolving delegate count. Or would it? It is hard to imagine a situation where those votes are not counted even with an asterisk. "Candidate X has the support of Congressperson Y. Congressperson Y's vote at the convention may or may not matter, but Candidate X has that vote in hand if it does." And with or without that sort of secondary delegate count, patterns of these types of endorsements are bound to be reported. "Members of Congress and governors are flocking to Candidate X and none of the others." There are signals -- there is influence -- in that sort of activity under even a Third Way structure.
While "doing nothing is not an option," this particular something does not exactly address the two biggest complaints/desires coming out of 2016 (nor some of the scenario-specific issues described above).

What might?

One approach may be to wed the past with the future. Attempts to balance an infrastructural element of the Democratic delegate selection process almost demands that.

First, the future. Ken Martin's plus is a novel idea. But its value is in turning the final delegate count into an actionable point in the process and less about the trigger. To repeat, none of these plans call for the elimination of superdelegates, and that is a nod to them being a load-bearing part of the overall delegate selection process. Eliminating superdelegates means fewer delegate slots and more competition for those spots (potentially/likely more among/between rank-and-file members and elected officials). Changing that would have a cascading effect on other elements of the delegate selection process.

If one acknowledges, then, that superdelegates are not going anywhere, then how does the party deal with their influence? One component is nestled in Martin's trigger. Not the trigger itself, but in the cutoff; the end of primary season delegate count. That data can be determinative in terms of the superdelegates. Either a candidate has a conclusive number of delegates to claim the nomination or said candidate does not. If one candidate has met the threshold, then the superdelegates can participate as they could not overturn the will of the primary voters. That is the plus mechanism in Martin's Third Way Plus; the no harm, no foul outcome.

However, the alternative outcome is an inconclusive primary season. That is a scenario in which superdelegates may be needed to break the stalemate. A convention vote is not needed to accomplish that when the result is already known. Moreover, why potentially take that tiebreaker into a convention setting? It would be a wide departure from what conventions have evolved to in the modern era: a kickoff to the general election.

Now, at this point one may ask, "Well, is this not just a way to keep superdelegates involved in the process?" It does resemble the status quo. That is why it is necessary to couple with the end of primary season delegate count with an element from the superdelegates past.

[For more on the history of superdelegates see The Unity Reform Commission and Superdelegates]

When the superdelegates concept was rolled out for 1984, there were a set number of slots set aside. There were 400 apportioned to the state parties to dole out. Additionally, state party chairs and vice chairs were granted automatic spots and 60 percent of the members of Congress (the latter of which were selected by the House Democratic Caucus and the Senate Democratic Conference).

One problem that arose during that initial run was that the congressional superdelegate selection happened prior to the first round of contests. That was viewed at the time -- mainly because there was a near-consolidation of congressional support behind one candidate, Walter Mondale -- as an unofficial first primary; one that provided undue influence on the nomination.

This came up in the rules discussions after 1984, and, in fact, affected the 1988 rules. The process of determining who the superdelegates were was streamlined. The who part was specified, getting away from the process of state parties tagging folks as unpledged. Instead, DNC members from the states were granted superdelegate status in addition to officeholders like governors and big city mayors. Additionally, the percentage of members of Congress was increased from 60 percent to 80 percent. Both these moves upped the number of superdelegates for 1988 as compared to the previous cycle.

However, one corrective action the 1985 Fairness Commission -- the corollary to today's Unity Reform Commission -- helped produce was a change in the time period in which congressional superdelegates would be chosen. Rather than having that selection process happen before Iowa and New Hampshire, the process was pushed back to late April and early May. And the intent was reduce the influence of the most high-profile superdelegates. That late selection period and the fact that only 80 percent of the Democratic members of Congress were selected combined to limit superdelegate influence. Sure, Democratic members of Congress could endorse but the impact is muted if it is unknown (to the public) whether that vote would be cast in any meaningful way at the convention.

And that was something that was consistent with the Hunt Commission report/recommendations. That 1982 commission sought to get Democratic members of Congress back involved in the convention, the potential deliberations around the presidential nomination, and weighing in (if needed) at the convention. The changes instituted for 1988 accomplished that (although Dukakis was the presumptive nominee well before the convention).

The superdelegate system -- indeed, the nomination system -- evolved from that point, and by the 1996 cycle, the "randomness" of which Democratic members of Congress would be involved was eliminated. With all Democratic members of Congress involved thereafter, the "selection" process became frontloaded (or at the very least the decision to weigh in early was left to the discretion of the most high-profile of superdelegates and on the individual level).

It was that change over time that left the Democratic system vulnerable to charges of undue and early superdelegate influence under circumstances like 2016 (where there was a consolidation of superdelegate support behind one candidate).

Bringing back some of that "randomness" to the process and pushing the "selection" of congressional superdelegates to the end of primary season when pledged delegate count is complete would help mitigate the influence. It does not get rid of superdelegates -- that has not been on the table -- but it would reduce their influence. And that was the main complaint during and following 2016.

Look, this is not going to be implemented. It is too late in the rules process for that (although this is similar in some respects to the plan discussed by former DNC chair, Don Fowler, at the Providence meeting). But by combining elements of the future and past, the influence of superdelegates could be reduced without either some of the problems in Third Way or removing superdelegates from a scenario where their ability to break a primary season stalemate is needed.

But the complications of juggling the needs of a cycle yet to come with the leftovers a cycle just past often yield unintended consequences. That is the nature of making nomination rules in diverse party coalitions.

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Related:

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Nebraska Democratic Party Platform Committee Passes Caucus-to-Primary Resolution

From the Omaha World-Herald:
Nebraska Democrats are weighing whether to scrap their decade-old practice of holding presidential caucuses.  
The Nebraska Democratic Party’s platform committee voted with no dissent Friday at Southeast Community College to advance a resolution calling for the elimination of presidential caucuses before the 2020 election.  
When the resolution was introduced, there were cheers from the group, and several people exclaimed that they dislike the caucuses.
The unanimously passed resolution to abandon the caucuses for a primary to allocate national convention delegates will now go before the state convention. Win or lose there, the decision will likely not be finalized by the state central committee until 2019 after the Democratic National Committee has set its rules for delegate selection for the 2020 cycle.

Related:
Nebraska Democrats Signal Caucus-to-Primary Switch for 2020
March Presidential Primary Bill Dies as Nebraska Legislature Adjourns

Friday, June 22, 2018

Cooper's Signature Gives 2020 North Carolina Primary Scheduling Certainty

North Carolina governor, Roy Cooper (D), made quick work of SB 655. The bill came to the Tar Heel state chief executive on June 14 and was signed today (June 22).

The bill untethers the North Carolina presidential primary from carve-out South Carolina and schedules a consolidated primary -- presidential and state/local offices -- for the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. North Carolina now joins California as the only two states to have officially moved up (and to the same earliest allowed date) on the 2020 presidential primary calendar. The Tar Heel state also shifts up the allocation of its delegates to coincide with a number of its neighbors; mainly the leftovers from the 2016 SEC primary.

Importantly, the change represents a shift of another large group of delegates toward the beginning of the 2020 primary calendar. The 2020 calendar is not 2008 yet, but it is moving in that direction.

...and before the most intense period for primary movement in any cycle: the year before a presidential election year.

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Related:
6/12/18: Revived March Presidential Primary Bill Passes North Carolina Senate
6/6/17: Amended Primary Legislation Passes North Carolina House
6/1/17: North Carolina Inches Toward Joining a Nascent SEC Primary for 2020
4/27/17: North Carolina Presidential Primary Bill Unanimously Passes State Senate

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Nebraska Democrats Signal Caucus-to-Primary Switch for 2020

Citing party resources stretched too thin and depressed primary turnout, the Nebraska Democratic Party is considering abandoning its caucuses for a primary to allocate national convention delegates in 2020.

Prompted by the promise of an earlier voice in the presidential nomination process and no clear hope of a legislative move to shift up the primary in the Cornhusker state, Nebraska Democrats in 2007 first established a (then-compliant) February caucus/convention system for allocating national convention delegates in 2008. And while the move has driven grassroots enthusiasm and drawn candidate attention over the last three cycles in a way that a May primary may not have, the caucus/convention process has diverted party resources (around $150,000) that could otherwise have been spent winning elected offices further down the ballot.

The process of creating that separate caucus has also had implications for the May primary. First, the switch to a caucus rendered the presidential contest on the May primary ballot a beauty contest, meaningless to the allocation of delegates to the national convention. With the allocation decided, there was far less interest in the primary and has yielded lower turnout in primary elections for state and local offices.

And that is not all that uncommon for states with later and consolidated primaries combining presidential preference and a vote for nominations to down ballot positions. States that opt to create a new and separate presidential primary earlier in the calendar leave behind later primaries for other offices. Those primaries, asking voters to return to the polls again in a relatively short window of time, tend to see far lower participation.

Nebraska Democrats have apparently felt those pressures and are open to a return to the primary in 2020. The preference seems to be for an earlier primary, but state party chair (and Unity Reform Commission member), Jane Kleeb has also indicated that even a May primary may work given the outlook for 2020 (a big field of candidates).

Democrats have not exactly balked at a primary date change in the non-partisan Nebraska Unicam, but efforts to shift the contest into April (in 2014) or March (in 2016 and 2018) have all fallen flat in recent years. It is unclear whether Republican aligned legislators will be receptive to a date change in a cycle in which Republicans may not see a contested presidential nomination race.

One thing is clear: In the wake of 2016, caucuses are under scrutiny at almost all levels of the Democratic Party. Yes, the Unity Reform Commission made some recommendations regarding caucuses, but independent of that push, a handful of states have already made the caucus-to-primary switch. Colorado, Maine, and Minnesota all made the change in 2016 and Utah laid the groundwork for a primary option (by funding the election) in 2017. The number of caucus states looks to contract substantially with or without a Nebraska shift.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Revived March Presidential Primary Bill Passes North Carolina Senate

After over a year on the back burner, legislation to solidify the date of the North Carolina presidential was resurrected by the state Senate on June 12.

SB 655 unanimously passed the Senate in April 2017, but was amended and passed with more resistance last June by the state House. It was upon its return to the Senate that SB 655 lost momentum, stalling based on a seemingly noncontroversial change.

The difference between the Senate-passed version and the House-amended version?

A change in the date on which the legislation would take effect if/once signed into law. The original bill called for the date change to take effect on the signature of the governor. However, the House version would have delayed that until January 2019.

Basically, the House amendment had the effect of exempting the 2018 midterm primaries, keeping that round of elections in May and pushing all primaries in subsequent cycles -- presidential and midterm -- to March. Again, that was a minor difference. And while it was enough to stall the legislation in 2017, the passage of time made any difference across legislative chambers over the effective date moot.

Now that the May 2018 primaries have come and gone in the Tar Heel state, the Senate resisting a January 2019 effective date became unnecessary. And that is what led to the chamber's near-unanimous (41-3) concurrence with the year old, House-amended version of SB 655. That vote sends the measure to Governor Roy Cooper (D) for his consideration.

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This bill is moving on to the next step in the process, then. But what would it accomplish?

As FHQ said in the spring of 2017, the change adds certainty. And in this case it is early certainty on the date of the 2020 North Carolina presidential preference primary. That is meaningful compared to how legislators in the Tar Heel state handled the scheduling of the 2016 presidential primary.

In 2013, as part of a broader elections measure, the North Carolina presidential primary was uprooted from its traditional May position, consolidated with primaries for other offices, and tethered it to the South Carolina presidential primary. Given South Carolina's protected position among the earliest four primary states and the tendency of the parties in the Palmetto state to settle on primary dates after other states have settled on theirs, it left uncertain where the North Carolina presidential primary  would fall on the calendar and if it would end up in violation of the national parties' rules on the timing of presidential primaries and caucuses.

Both issues were resolved but not until the late summer of 2015. And the change that was made -- setting the presidential primary for March 15 during the 2016 cycle -- expired at the end of 2016. That meant that North Carolina reverted to the 2013 change at that point; tethered to the South Carolina primary.

As long as SB 655 was bottled up in the state Senate, the North Carolina primary date remained uncertain. That continues to be true, but that the legislation has progressed to the gubernatorial consideration stage is at least some evidence that North Carolina is moving toward a quicker, earlier, and permanent resolution to the same 2016-style problems for the 2020 cycle. And considering the level to which the bill passed both chambers, Governor Cooper is unlikely to exercise a veto for fear of an override.

It is just a matter of time, then, before North Carolina can be permanently slotted into a first Tuesday after the first Monday in March primary date (for all offices), joining neighbors Tennessee, Virginia, and likely Georgia (and a number of other southern states as well).

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The 2020 presidential primary calendar

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Related:
6/6/17: Amended Primary Legislation Passes North Carolina House
6/1/17: North Carolina Inches Toward Joining a Nascent SEC Primary for 2020
4/27/17: North Carolina Presidential Primary Bill Unanimously Passes State Senate

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A tip of the cap to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News for sending news of this along to a vacationing FHQ.

Monday, June 4, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] Bids to Move Back to March Meet Dead Ends in Arkansas

This post is part of a series examining efforts -- both attempted and successful -- to move presidential primary election dates for 2020 during the now-adjourning 2017-2018 state legislative sessions in capitols across the country. While shifts tend to be rare in sessions immediately following a presidential election, introduced legislation is more common albeit unsuccessful more often than not.

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During the 2016 cycle, for the third time during the post-reform era, the Arkansas legislature again shifted up the date of its presidential primary, joining a group of mainly southern states in the SEC primary coalition.

After some inter-chamber wrangling over how to accomplish the primary shift, legislation ultimately became law, but only temporarily. At the conclusion of the 2016 cycle, the new law met its sunset and the Arkansas primary reverted to its previous May date for subsequent cycles. That is, unless and until the legislature made the decision to make a permanent change.

To that end, the 2017 state legislature in the Natural state introduced a trio of bills aiming to place the primaries in March rather than May. The first came from the principal behind the 2015 effort to schedule an earlier primary and sought to shift a consolidated primary to what will be the second Tuesday in March for 2020.1 But the bill -- SB 122 -- state Senator Gary Stubblefield (R-6th, Branch) filed faced just enough resistance to derail the legislation. In two late January (2017) votes, Stubblefield's bill came up just short of the majority of the members of the Senate required for final passage. Despite having more yeas than nays in both cases, the legislation fell short of the 18 needed; a majority of the 35 member state Senate.2

The no votes were from a coalition of eight of the nine Democratic members and seven Republicans, and the concerns were not exactly partisan:
Some senators raised concerns about having to campaign and ask volunteers to campaign in winter weather and creating campaign seasons that would last all year. Some advocated deciding the primary date on an election-by-election basis.
Additionally, Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) opposed the Senate bill, citing issues with the transition to four year terms for county elected officials. But Hutchinson also deferred to the legislature on the matter.

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None of that deterred members of the state House in February (2017) from launching their own effort thereafter to move the consolidated primary from May to March. HB 1697 was introduced and withdrawn due to technical issues with the bill.3 Later that bill was replaced with HB 1707 by the same author, Representative Michelle Gray (R-62nd, Melbourne), and the same robust list of co-sponsors.

Initially, HB 1707 would have shifted up the general primary -- the runoff -- to the fourth Tuesday in March and the preferential primary three weeks before that on the first Tuesday in the month. But a concurrent piece of legislation -- one which later became law -- widening the gap between the two steps of the nominations process from three to four weeks working its way through the chamber forced an amendment to HB 1707. The amended language reconciled the House bill with the rejected Senate version by scheduling the general primary for the first Tuesday in April and the preferential primary for four weeks before that.

That version overwhelmingly passed the House, 73-10, but like the Senate version before it, got bottled up in the Senate and died as the session came to a close.

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While this is yet another story of a 2017 bill with a 2020 primary date change failing, there are some notes to flag from the 2017 maneuvering in Arkansas for when the 2020 cycle transitions into its post-midterm period and the 2019 state legislative sessions.

First, unless state Senator Stubblefield does not return to the general assembly in 2019, then there will likely be another attempt at moving the primary from May to March permanently.

Second, there may be some changes to the make up of the Arkansas state legislature in the 2018 midterms, but the state Senate was where the permanent move of the presidential primary to March in the Natural state found resistance. And even then, the proposal only just barely failed to pass. The House passed its version.

Finally, while Governor Hutchinson did not support the shift from May to March, he did defer to the legislature to make the decision. If the a bill to move the Arkansas primary can be shepherded through the state Senate, then the governor will not necessarily stand in the way.

However, all of that is a story for 2019 (but with roots in the failures to make the change permanent in both 2015 and 2017).


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The Arkansas bills have been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.


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1 That would not be the case in every cycle, but due to the combination of the way that Arkansas codifies the scheduling of its primaries and the calendar in 2020, the Arkansas primary, under the provisions of this bill, would have fallen on the second Tuesday in March -- March 10, 2020.

The way Arkansas sets this up is unique. Although, the sequence does not apply to a presidential primary, there are two steps to the Arkansas nomination process for other offices in the context of a consolidated primary: a preferential primary and a general primary. This is not that different from a handful of other states, but the terminology is. A general primary in Arkansas is called a runoff elsewhere. And truth be told, that is the shorthand that is used in Arkansas, but not in the language of the statute.

Said statute establishes the date of the general primary -- the second step in the sequence -- first. Currently, that is set for the third Tuesday in June. Based on that marker -- the date of the general primary -- the first step preferential primary is set for four weeks prior. That would mean that the presidential preference vote would occur in late May concurrent with the preferential primary.

And the intent of Stubblefield's bill was to keep that set up largely similar, but to shift it up on the calendar by more than two months. However, the goal was also to reestablish and make permanent the SEC primary position Arkansas had on the first Tuesday in March for the 2016 cycle. This bill fell short on that mark because there will be five Tuesday in March 2020. Setting the general primary for the first Tuesday in April and the preferential primary for four weeks before would establish a system where Arkansas would toggle back and forth between a position on the first Tuesday in March and the second Tuesday in March depending on how many Tuesdays there are in March in a given year.

This could be reconciled if the preferential primary was the established baseline from which the general primary scheduling is based, rather than vice versa. But it is not. Again, Arkansas is unique.


2 This is distinct from rules in other legislative settings in and out of Arkansas requiring a majority of those voting. For a bill to pass the Arkansas state Senate, 18 is the number -- a majority of the full Senate membership whether every member is present and voting or not. That will remain so as long as the full membership is 35 in number.

3 The bills are identical to each other with the exception of a few places where current law was struck and new passages were added but not underlined (in the original) to denote what was being added or changed in the law by the bill. HB 1707 fixed those issues and became the vehicle for the attempted primary change.

Friday, June 1, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] June Consolidated Primary Falls Short in Massachusetts Again

This post is part of a series examining efforts -- both attempted and successful -- to move presidential primary election dates for 2020 during the now-adjourning 2017-2018 state legislative sessions in capitols across the country. While shifts tend to be rare in sessions immediately following a presidential election, introduced legislation is more common albeit unsuccessful more often than not.

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If the Massachusetts General Court is in session, then state Rep. James Dwyer (D-30th, Woburn) has a bill before the state House to consolidate all of the primaries in the Bay state in June.

In every session since Dwyer first took office, he has filed legislation -- in 2011, 2013, and 2015 -- to shift the presidential primary back to June from March and the primaries for other state offices to June from the late summer/early fall. And in each instance the bill has died with little consideration. That dynamic was again on display during 190th session of the General Court. Dwyer in 2017 once again filed a bill -- H 361 -- in an attempt to create one all-encompassing primary on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June; typically the date of the last cluster of primaries and caucuses in the presidential nomination process.

Moves toward primary consolidation are often couched in terms of budget savings and often because the state has transitioned from concurrent primaries to a split set up with a separate, earlier, and expensive presidential primary. Often the return on investment is lacking in the eyes of legislators, who, in turn, move to reestablish the more traditional (and cheaper) consolidated option. But that is not the cast in Massachusetts. The savings are certainly in Dwyer's bills, but the main driver in his push is more about the administrative buffer between the later primary for state offices and the general election. The rationale then becomes "move the state primaries to the latest date that can still be coupled with the presidential primary." That gives election administrators a double reprieve -- one less election and without the rush to prepare for the general election -- and budget makers some additional money to shift elsewhere.

And that seems once again to be the case in the 2017 version of this legislation.

However, as things transition into 2019 and the preparation for 2020 many state legislatures will do, there will at least one less regularly occurring event in Massachusetts. If recent history is any guide, then Bay state Secretary of State William Galvin will likely raise concerns over the elections appropriation and the impact that has on the viability of conducting a presidential primary. FHQ has speculated that Dwyer's primary bills would ease some of that financial burden, but the move has been Galvin's attempt to leverage more funding. Yet, Dwyer will not be around to propose legislation to consolidate the presidential and state primaries in June. He will be retiring at the conclusion of the 190th. That does not mean that a similar bill will not come up. It just means that someone else in the legislature will be filing the legislation.


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The Massachusetts bill has been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] Third Time Is Not the Charm for June Illinois Primary

This post is part of a series examining efforts -- both attempted and successful -- to move presidential primary election dates for 2020 during the now-adjourning 2017-2018 state legislative sessions in capitols across the country. While shifts tend to be rare in sessions immediately following a presidential election, introduced legislation is more common albeit unsuccessful more often than not.

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Rare are the times when Illinois has pulled up the stakes on its traditional third Tuesday in March primary to move elsewhere on the presidential primary calendar. In fact, the only time in the post-reform era legislators in the Land of Lincoln shifted what is called the general primary -- a consolidated primary that includes the presidential primary -- was ahead of a cycle when a favorite son was seeking the Democratic nomination.

While other states are moving around from cycle to cycle, that just does not happen in Illinois. Like other states, Illinois is a victim of the same negative inertia of traditional fixed primary date. However, that has not stopped Illinois state Representative Scott Drury (D-58th, Highwood) from proposing legislation in the last three sessions to push the general primary back from March to the fourth Tuesday in June. Drury raised the issue in 2013 and again in 2015. And a similar bill -- HB 344 -- was introduced for a third time in 2017 and met the same fate: being referred to committee following introduction, where it died.

The intent of this is less about the presidential primary tethered to the general primary and likely more about shortening the general election campaign for all the other candidates nominated for state and local offices across the state. But a fourth Tuesday in June Illinois presidential primary would have implications. It would place the contest in the same position as the back up option in Utah. And while that worked for the Utah GOP in the 2012 cycle, that position on the calendar is now non-compliant with the national party rules on primary and caucus timing. The fourth Tuesday in June is too late on the calendar, falling outside of the window in which states can conduct primaries and caucuses.

This June primary idea keeps coming up in Illinois, but legislators have not gravitated to it in the past and likely will not in the future (should it come up again in 2019).


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The Illinois bill has been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.