Friday, March 27, 2015

Arkansas Senate Passes Bill to Create Separate March Presidential Primary

The Associated Press reported earlier in the week that the Arkansas State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected a bill to position the presidential primary in the Natural state on the proposed SEC primary date.

Now, as FHQ has detailed, there are two bills to move the Arkansas primary into that position. One would create a separate presidential primary election and the other proposes moving the entire May preferential primary to the first Tuesday in March. It is not clear which one was "rejected" and there is no record of any rejection.1

Regardless of that midweek development, the aforementioned Arkansas state Senate committee yesterday slightly tweaked SB 389 -- the bill to create the separate presidential primary -- and recommended it pass the chamber.2 And during floor time today -- Friday, March 27 -- the Senate passed SB 389 by a 20-5 vote.

The measure now heads to the state House for its consideration.

SB 765, the other bill, is still on the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs docket and may also be considered at some point. FHQ has discussed the trade-offs of creating a separate primary or moving everything up in the Arkansas case here.

1 It should be noted that this may or may not be an AP problem. It could be attributable to a less than user-friendly Arkansas legislature website not providing the information that sites in other states share more readily and easily.

2 The amendment had nothing to do with the date of the primary.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Michigan Democrats Opt In to March 8 Presidential Primary

The Michigan Democratic Party on Thursday, March 26 released for public comment a draft version of the party's 2016 delegate selection plan. Here's the press release from state party chairman, Lon Johnson:
RE: Michigan Democratic Party Makes 2016 Delegate Selection Plan available for Review
Date: Thursday, March 26, 2015 
The Michigan Democratic Party has completed its proposed Delegate Selection Plan for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The plan will be available for review for a thirty day public comment period on the MDP website at beginning today, March 26, 2015. After the comment period expires, the Plan will be submitted to the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee for final approval and further action with the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee. 
The Plan provides that Michigan will have a total of 152 delegates and 11 alternates, to be selected proportionately, based on the results of a government-run primary. This "first determining step" in the Michigan delegate selection process will occur on Tuesday, March 8th, 2016, to be held in conjunction with the Michigan GOP Presidential Primary. Further information can be found in the Plan itself. 
If there are any questions, comments or criticisms about the Plan, you may contact the Michigan Democratic Party.
The public comment period is standard operating procedure in the context of the Democratic nomination process. National party rules require state parties to draft these delegate selection plans, open them for a period for public comment and then submit the plans to the DNC/Rules and Bylaws Committee for approval usually by early May of the year preceding a presidential election (May 4, 2015 for this cycle).

More importantly, layered into both plan and Johnson press release that Michigan Democrats plan on opting into the presidential primary in lieu of caucusing in 2016. Michigan Democrats have had an on-again, off-again relationship with the presidential primary in the Great Lakes state over the years. The party caucused in 2012, but attempted to use the primary in 2008 (though that non-compliant January primary famously led to penalties from the DNC that cycle).

Michigan Democrats, then, seem to be headed for a March 8 presidential primary pending approval by the Michigan Democratic Party State Central Committee.

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Amended Oklahoma Presidential Primary Bill Stymied in Committee

The Oklahoma state House Committee on Elections and Ethics convened on Wednesday, March 25 to  consider several state Senate-passed bills. Among them was SB 233, the legislation proposing the Oklahoma presidential preference primary be shifted back three weeks on the primary calendar. The bill was originally requested by the Oklahoma Republican Party with the intention of it returning to a more winner-take-all method of delegate allocation (after one cycle of dabbling with a more proportional method required by Republican National Committee rules).1

Due to conflicts raised by elections administrators in the state, an amendment was offered in the committee to push the date of the primary back two additional weeks in order to have it coincide with an election date called for in state law. The state provides for an opportunity to hold various elections on the first Tuesday in March and the first Tuesday in April. Adding a third election in that window is a perceived burden on those elections officials.

That amendment -- to move the Oklahoma primary to the first Tuesday in April -- was unanimously accepted by the Elections and Ethics Committee.

However, the move back -- in general, not just the further push back into April -- raised some concerns. After passing the state Senate with only a handful of dissenting votes, SB 233 faced some backlash from not only House committee members but in public testimony as well. That back and forth between the House author of the bill, Rep. Gary Banz (R-101st, Midwest City), and members of the committee was instructive in highlighting the trade-offs involved in the potential move.

  1. ...staying in an earlier March position with potentially more candidate/media attention but at the price of having to proportionally allocate delegates, or...
  2. ...shifting back to a later (relative to the March position) April date that satisfies election administrators in the state and allows the Oklahoma Republican Party to allocate convention delegates on a winner-take-all basis, but at a cost of the primary falling after the point on the calendar at which someone has clinched the nomination (or is likely too far ahead to be caught in the remaining contests).
That really does neatly encapsulate the competing interests involved in these decisions: state parties, state governments, national parties (rules) and the voters themselves.

As for the Wednesday committee hearing, the bill was laid over for future consideration not so much because there was an impasse on SB 233, but because the full committee was not present and the no one from the Oklahoma Republican Party was on hand to (directly) offer their reasoning for the later primary date.

The clock is ticking on this. Oklahoma House committees have to have voted up or down on Senate-passed legislation by April 10. The provides the Elections and Ethics Committee only a couple of additional opportunities to tie up any loose ends with SB 233. If they cannot, Oklahoma will stay on March 1 and Republicans would be forced to proportionally allocate their national convention delegation to the various candidates.

For now, however, this one is on pause.

Hat tip to Randy Krehbiel at the Tulsa World whose story alerted FHQ to yesterday's hearing.

1 The modifiers are important on the types of allocation in this instance. Oklahoma Republicans have had a winner-take-all by congressional method of delegate allocation in the past, not a true winner-take-all distribution. In addition, the proportional method the party utilized in 2012 was conditionally winner-take-all by congressional district, but functionally proportional by congressional district. If no candidate received a majority of the vote either statewide or in the Sooner state's five congressional districts, then the allocation was proportional within those units (statewide and congressional district). That is not a truly proportional plan in the conventional sense.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kansas Senate Unanimously Passes Bill Repealing Presidential Primary

The Kansas state Senate unanimously passed SB 239 on Wednesday, March 25. By a vote of 39-0 the members of the Senate opted to repeal the presidential primary law in lieu of canceling the election for the sixth consecutive cycle in the Sunflower state.

The measure now moves on to the state House where the a similar bill is already being considered. Should either bill pass and be signed into law, it would permanently end the possibility of a state-funded presidential primary option in Kansas (unless a future legislature reverses course). In the absence of a primary election since 1992, Kansas state parties have selected and allocated delegates to the national conventions through a state party-run and funded caucuses/convention process.

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Amended Kansas Senate Bill Would Now Eliminate Presidential Primary Altogether

Last week both efforts to cancel at least the 2016 presidential primary in Kansas pushed forward. However, a divergence between the two chambers' respective bills emerged in the process. The House version was amended in committee to not just eliminate the 2016 primary, but to repeal the presidential primary portion of the Kansas statutes, killing the primary altogether. On the Senate side, the committee passed the original version of its bill, which stuck to the quadrennial protocol that has defined the presidential primary election in the Sunflower state over the last two plus decades. Basically, that has entailed canceling the primary every four years, kicking the can down the road and leaving the door open to the possibility of the state funding a primary option and the state parties utilizing it.

That door now appears to be closing. The Senate, in considering SB 239 on Tuesday, March 24, amended its version, syncing it with the House version. This would alter the standard operating procedure described above. It would cancel the primary for good barring another subsequent act of the legislature to reverse course and reestablish a presidential primary election.

The Senate Committee on the Whole -- the floor consideration of the bill -- recommended that the bill pass the chamber as amended. That clears the way for a final vote that, at this stage, seems nothing more than a formality.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nevada Won't Have a January Presidential Primary in 2016

However, AB 302 will live on in a different form.

The Nevada Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections convened on Tuesday, March 24 to conduct a hearing a handful of bills. Among them was AB 302, the legislation introduced by Assembly Speaker John Hambrick (R-2nd, Clark) to revamp the nominations process in the Silver state. That bill called for, among other things, the creation of a presidential primary option in Nevada and the coupling of it with the primaries for other offices in January of a presidential election year.

Suffice it to say, those provisions alone held some fairly significant ramifications for not only Nevada but the general order of the national presidential nomination process as well.

Most of the problem areas appear to have been shed or are about to be shed from the bill.

January primary? Out.

Coupling of the two sets of primary elections (in January)? Out.

Creation of a presidential primary? Still in.

And that -- the possible creation of a presidential primary -- was the crux of the hearing.

Daniel Stewart from Speaker Hambrick's office provided a rough sketch of the details that would be in the bill after he described to the committee what was going to be amended out. But first he mentioned that the original bill was nothing more than a placeholder, introduced to beat the March 16 deadline for individual legislators to introduce legislation for the 2015 session. The intention, then, was never to attempt to create a Nevada presidential primary and move it into January.

The bill now seems -- and it is still "seems" because the amended version of the bill was not available to the committee during the hearing and is not online at this point -- to create a presidential primary option for a single date in February for the state parties in Nevada to opt into at their choosing. In other words, the state parties could opt for either party-run caucuses or a hypothetical state-run primary. There was no discussion about how a date would be chosen. Jointly by the two major parties? By, say, the secretary of state? That is a matter that will have to be ironed out in the amended version of the bill.

In reaction to the proposed changes, the members of the committee fell into to two basic camps: 1) receptive if not supportive of a switch from caucuses to a primary and 2) those concerned such a switch would endanger Nevada's first in the West status protection in the national parties' delegate selection rules.

Committee chairman, Lynn Stewart (R-22nd, Clark) and Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman (R-34th, Clark) both liked that a prospective primary would likely have the effect of increasing participation in the presidential nomination process and that a primary would have the potential impact of tamping down on some of the confusion that plagued the Nevada caucuses process on the Republican side (particularly in 2008 and 2012).

However, Democrats, Assemblyman Elliot Anderson (D-15th, Clark) and Assemblyman James Ohrenschall (D-12th, Clark) worried aloud that trading in the caucuses for a primary, specifically when the Democratic National Committee rules protect the Nevada caucuses, might negatively affect the privileged position Nevadans have enjoyed since the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee added Nevada as a carve-out state in 2006.1

The subsequent testimony from interested parties for, against and neutral offered more of the same in terms of reactions. The exception was the commentary from Nevada Republican Party Vice Chair Jim DeGraffenreid, who came out against both the original bill and the amended version more fully discussed in the hearing. He rejected the primary idea outright, saying that the state party could and would make the decision on its own and that the taxpayer expenditure for a presidential primary was not necessary. [This is an issue that has come up in other states as well.] And in response to the question of whether the Nevada Republican Party was against the bill, he said that was the party position.

The hearing on AB 302 basically posed more new questions than answered any. It opens up the conflict that is not foreign to other states: more participation in a state-funded, state-run primary or a party's right to freely associate with voters of its choosing in a process of its choosing. This bill may or may not move in its amended form -- the devil's in the details -- but even if it does, one party in the state (Republican) seems intent on sticking with caucuses and the other one (Democrats) may too due to the conflict a primary option may pose in the face of DNC delegate selection rules. The parties will likely have input on this and that likely produces a spectrum of outcomes ranging from a Utah-like system where state parties have an opt-in but a primary depends on (possibly uncertain) state funding to the bill getting bottled up in committee because neither party intends to participate.

This one is unsettle but for one thing: There will not be a January presidential primary in Nevada next year.

1 That decision had the effect of forcing on national Republicans an early Nevada caucus that they did not necessarily want, but that they, nonetheless, reluctantly added to the mix in 2008.

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Utah Democrats Appear Headed for March 22 Caucuses in 2016 ...and online voting?

With a presidential primary option now off the table in Utah in 2016, Democrats are eyeing March 22 as the date of their precinct caucuses according to the executive director of the Utah Democratic Party. State party delegate selection plans are not due to the Democratic National Committee until May, but Lauren Littlefield provided a bit of a sneak peek at one aspect of it in comments on the 2016 process to Utah Policy.

March 22 caucuses would align Utah Democrats with the primary in southern neighbor, Arizona. That is also the date the Utah presidential primary would have occurred under the provisions of the bill that failed to pass the legislature during the now-adjourned 2015 legislative session.

The prospective date -- FHQ will call it that until March 22 is confirmed in the forthcoming delegate selection plan -- was not the only bit of news from Littlefield. She also indicated that the party would also work toward facilitating online voting in the 2016 caucuses. Online voting is in vogue in Utah at the proposal stage anyway. It was a component of the 2014 legislation that would have moved Utah to the first position on the presidential primary calendar. In the most recent legislative session, it was a part of the bill to change the February primary option to March. Utah Republicans are also considering adding online voting as an element of their caucuses process in 2016.

And online voting is not expressly forbidden in the DNC delegate selection rules. The catch is that a state party having an online element to their delegate selection process must meet certain conditions first. Where Utah Democrats run afoul of Rule 2.G is in the fact that online voting is limited to state party-run primaries. Utah Democrats appear ready to select and allocate delegates to the national convention in Philadelphia through a caucuses/convention system. The DNC rules are also limiting in that the online vote can only apply to a presidential preference vote and not the other business that would typically occur at precinct caucuses. That conflict also seems relevant in the context of the walk up and mail-in options that are required alongside the online vote. None of that -- other party business at caucuses, providing for online/mail-in votes -- mesh all that well with the caucuses process. That is why absentee and military voting problems continue to be raised in any discussion of the shortcomings of the caucuses/convention process generally.

Utah Democrats could try to pin all of this on state Republicans who control the state government and who scuttled the primary option for 2016. That may open the door being successfully granted a waiver from the DNC to hold online voting. However, the waiver process does not really apply to or address online voting. It is meant to provide relief to state Democratic parties forced to conduct a delegate selection process that in some way breaks the rules (that have penalties for violation). That parenthetical is important. It should be noted that there is no specified penalty for conducting some form of online vote as part of the delegate selection process. Things may get messy certifying those delegates, but that is why it is important to get the blessing of the DNC first.

One other alternative may be for the party to conduct a firehouse primary in conjunction with those March precinct meetings. That is what the Utah Democratic Party did in 2004. And that would better meet the requirements in the DNC rules calling for 1) a primary and 2) a walk up option to be paired with online/mail-in opportunities.

NOTE: FHQ should add that we followed up with Bryan Schott at Utah Policy about his source for the March 22 caucuses date and he confirmed that it came up in the course of his interview with Lauren Littlefield from the Utah Democratic Party.

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Presidential Primary Bill Gets the Thumbs Up in Idaho Committee

The Senate-passed bill to reestablish a presidential primary in Idaho and schedule it as a stand-alone election in March was favorably reported out of committee on the House side on the morning or Tuesday, March 24. The Idaho state House State Affairs Committee passed SB 1066 on to the floor for consideration with only minimal opposition. There were at least five dissenting -- one Republican joined the four Democrats on the committee -- votes recorded out of the 17 member committee.

UPDATE: FHQ dropped in on the committee hearing right before the vote on SB 1066 was held, so we missed much of the discussion on the bill. But it appears that the opposition to Idaho moving back to a presidential primary -- well, creating a separate, state-funded presidential primary in March -- is mainly coming from the minority party Democrats. What Republican opposition exists centers on the cost to taxpayers (via Betsy Russell):
“I am torn on this bill for a couple of reasons,” [Rep. Linda] Luker (R) said, after several people testified that they felt excluded from the presidential primary election process because they weren’t able to attend GOP caucuses in the last election. “I understand the need to be inclusive in terms of having everyone have an opportunity to vote.” But, he said, “It’s public funds. … I just can’t support the public expenditure part of this.”
By all accounts, though, it seems likely that moving to an earlier format that will increase participation in the nomination process will win out over that position when the bill hits the floor of the Idaho state House. That would have Idaho joining Michigan on March 8 on the presidential primary calendar.

UPDATE II: The price tag may be an issue, but as Nathan Brown added:
Supporters contend that is a highball estimate and the real cost would be about half that figure since many counties have school elections on that March date anyway.
This is an issue that has come up in the past but FHQ has not really highlighted. The would-be March 8 presidential primary would be conducted concurrent with school elections that fall on the same spot on the calendar.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

On 'Has the Republican Presidential Nominating System Changed Since 2008?'

Seth Masket, I thought, had an entirely reasonable reaction to Jim Rutenberg's New York Times Magazine piece on Ben Carson.

In a nutshell, Rutenberg argued that the emergence of the Tea Party in combination with the rise of social media, Citizen United's impact on campaign fundraising and changes in delegate selection rules have disrupted the normal rhythms of the Republican presidential nomination process since 2008. But as Seth points out, if we test that hypothesis on the one election cycle in the dataset since 2008, the evidence is not all that convincing.

It isn't. Despite all of that, well, noise between 2008 and 2012, Mitt Romney, the former governor and previous presidential aspirant, still emerged as the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. The signals that political scientists look at -- roughly poll position, fundraising, endorsements and to some lesser extent staff hires -- all basically pointed in the same direction heading into primary season in 2012.

But the rules part of this story does still stick out to me. Seth nailed the macro part of this, but FHQ feels compelled to add some of the micro side as well.

FHQ talked with Jim Rutenberg about the rules changes for his story, and he approached us from a particular angle: the rules changes for 2016, not 2012 (at least initially). He raised the concerns that some in the grassroots/Paul faction of the party raised at the Tampa convention in August 2012. Mainly, that the establishment within the Republican National Committee was attempting to cut off the spigot on them, eliminating the proportionality window installed for the 2012 cycle, prohibiting future non-binding caucuses and raising the bar on the number of states won/delegations controlled required to place a candidate's name on the nomination ballot.1

In other words, the Paul folks saw loopholes in the rules they able to successfully exploit in 2012 being closed and did not really like it.

If we look at those three rules changes specifically, though, their origins are a mixed bag. The proportionality requirement added by the (former RNC chair) Michael Steele-led Temporary Delegate Selection Committee added the change as a means of slowing the nomination process down some to build the sort of energy, enthusiasm and grassroots support that the drawn out Democratic nomination race had produced in 2008. Unintended consequence alert: That is kind of what the RNC got, just not in the way intended. The energy, enthusiasm and grassroots support were there, but instead of buoying the party, it threatened to tear it apart to some degree.

The non-binding caucuses have been a tradition in the Republican process, another factor left up to the discretion of the states. It was something that Christian conservatives aligned with Pat Robertson's  candidacy in 1988 were able to work to their advantage in 1988 to some extent. But that effort was not carried through to the level that the Paul folks were able to push things in 2012.

Finally, the Rule 40 changes -- increasing the number of states a candidate must control at the convention from five to eight -- added insult to injury for the Paul/liberty contingent at the convention. It had been an afterthought of a rule before -- at least as far as convention proceedings go -- but was the final piece to the puzzle of preventing 2012 shenanigans in future Republican nomination races.

All three were the openings that Ron Paul supporters saw in 2012 and the RNC sought to curtail for the future. But only the proportionality requirement was something created for the 2012 cycle. And that is where Rutenberg's picture of rules changes for 2012 is lacking. It misses the nuance, the part where the rules changes did not really undermine the 2012 Republican nomination process. There were rules changes for 2012, but they did not have the intended effect.

Actually, it was probably a failure to change the baseline 2008 rules that in some ways doomed the 2012 process. In retrospect, not upping the penalties on rules breakers really came back to haunt the RNC. It allowed Florida, Arizona, Michigan and the trio of non-binding, early February states to elongate the primary calendar. That had the effect of stretching out the nomination race in ways beyond what was intended in the new proportionality requirement.2 The primaries and caucuses were so scatter across the 2012 primary calendar that Mitt Romney did not reach the requisite number of delegates to clinch the nomination until the Texas primary at the end of May. And that was nearly two months after everyone but Ron Paul had either withdrawn from the race or suspended their campaign.

The rules changes for 2012, then, did not really undermine the Republican nomination process three years ago. Rather, the rules were exploited, or in a less negative connotation, exercised in a if not new way, then in a manner that they had not in quite a while. That had an impact on the course of the Republican nomination race.

...but not its ultimate outcome.

Seth is absolutely right about that. The rules, however, did shape the way that Romney became the nominee. That, in turn, created the perceived need for rules changes for 2016 to manage the Ben Carson problem or the Rand Paul problem or the Ted Cruz problem or whomever outside of the establishment comes along. Those candidates will not have those former avenues to exploit in 2016.

Has the Republican nominating system changed since 2008?

In a macro sense, no. But the rules have changed and had some impact.

But, then, the rules tend to change every cycle...

1 The careful reader will note that the proportionality requirement is a part of the 2016 Republican delegate selection rules. That was a product of the may/shall switch in Tampa that was edited by the Republican Rules Committee and approved by the full RNC in 2014. Its return was in a truncated form: a two week window at the beginning of March with a tighter definition of proportionality.

2 If one looks at the state party responses to the addition of the proportionality requirement, the changes are very subtle. That is a function of a couple of factors. First, state parties tend to choose the path of least resistance. If the parties cannot continue with the delegate allocation rules they have used in past, then they usually opt for the smallest change possible. Second, the RNC gave the states significant latitude in achieving proportionality. The definition provided a number of avenues for states to meet the requirement. Together, those made for very small changes to 2012 allocation plans as compared to 2008.

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Bush Involved in Recent Florida Presidential Primary Legislation?

This is interesting. From Lee Fang at The Intercept:
State Representative Matt Gaetz wrote to Bush on January 2nd that he is “concerned that Florida’s current primary date will lead to proportional allocation of delegates” and that a “winner take all” system would be preferable. 
“Unless you ask me otherwise, I’ll file legislation to move our primary date back a week,” Gaetz told Bush, who responded to say that his political advisor Sally Bradshaw would give Gaetz a call. “10 4,” Gaetz shot back. [Emphasis FHQ's]
Fang couches this exchange as coordination between Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature. Maybe, but there are a few things that cast some doubt on that assertion.

First, given the RNC penalty structure, the date of the Florida primary under the 2013 law was a bit unclear. That was not a new issue in 2015.

Secondly, Rep. Gaetz did not actually sponsor the legislation that came out of the Florida House and was subsequently signed into law. That plus the fact that the action the state legislator calls for in the email did not match with what some in Florida interpreted as the move in the recently passed legislation.1

In any event, Florida Republicans have historically had some form or fashion of winner-take-all or winner-take-most delegate allocation rules. Neither that, nor the fact that Florida Republicans wanted to extend that tradition should come as a surprise. It would likely have been true with or without Bush or Rubio eyeing runs at the White House.

But the thing is Rubio was involved in the 2013 law change that initially brought Florida back under compliance with the Republican National Committee rules. That was clearer than this exchange.

1 Some interpreted the presidential primary law change as affecting a two week change from March 1 to March 15.

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