Monday, April 27, 2015

Proposed Massachusetts House Budget Includes Money for 2016 Presidential Primary

FHQ is late to this, but after Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker's (R) budget seemed to threaten the 2016 presidential primary in the commonwealth (or at least place it closer to the chopping block), the state House set aside more money for the Elections Division in its version of the budget for fiscal year 2016:
[House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian] Dempsey said the House plan would increase spending on elections after state Secretary William Galvin warned Massachusetts would not be able to hold a presidential primary next year under Baker’s budget.
This is not all that surprising. Secretary Galvin made similar ominous projections about the money in the budget for the 2012 presidential primary in 2011. That primary went off without a hitch on the first Tuesday in March as planned.

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Nevada Switch to a Presidential Primary Has 'Quiet' Support from the RNC

Both bills to reestablish a presidential primary in Nevada missed deadlines last week to have passed their originating chamber. The idea of trading out the often-used caucuses in the Silver state for a presidential primary is not dead though. Neither are the bills really. As was the case in Washington, because both presidential primary bills have budgetary ramifications, they may be revived (once amended).

Now, Jon Ralston is reporting that there is support for the presidential primary idea at the RNC:
I'm also reliably told that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who was in Las Vegas this weekend at Sheldonfest, is quietly supporting the primary and has made calls. Why quietly? Because Priebus knows how nuts the state party is, I'd guess, and wants this as far away from those folks as possible, but knows he may have to work with them.
Mostly, this is based on the rocky road the Nevada Republican Party presidential caucuses (and all the way through to the state conventions) have traveled since they were indirectly thrust into the carve-out state spotlight prior to the 2008 presidential primary season.1 That is something FHQ cited yesterday.

The final version of the bill sounds like it will have to merge components of both the Assembly version and the Senate version (at least according to the wish list of those Ralston spoke with). The former has the opt-in provision that will allow Democrats the leeway to continue caucusing2, and the latter has the consolidated February primaries provision that will save the expense of two primaries (a presidential primary in February and a primary for non-presidential offices in June).

All that entails some more legislative wrangling before the first of June.

1 The DNC first gave Nevada along with South Carolina a privileged status alongside (well, behind) Iowa and New Hampshire in 2006 to diversify the early primary electorate. The Republican National Committee allowed Nevada Republicans to join the fun at the beginning of the primary calendar queue after that.

2 Nevada Democrats have expressed some concern that losing the caucuses option might affect the party's privileged status from the DNC. Rule 11 of the 2016 Democratic Party delegate selection rules directly specify the "Nevada first-tier caucuses" when providing guidelines for how the carve-out state contests should be scheduled.

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Maryland Presidential Primary Bills Not on Governor's Docket This Week

The two Maryland bill to move the presidential primary in the Old Line state back to the end of April are not on the list of bills to be signed later this week by Governor Larry Hogan (R).

SB 204 and HB 396 passed both Maryland state legislative chambers with nearly unanimous support. These are not, then, seemingly controversial bills. There is divided government in Maryland between the Democratic-controlled legislature and the Republican-controlled governor's office, but the proposed primary move does not appear to be a partisan issue.

The impetus for the change was the fact that the early voting associated with the presidential primary would conflict with religious holidays in the spring of 2016. That originally gave rise to a proposal to shift the primary back one week to the second Tuesday in April. That was later amended -- and passed by both chambers (twice) -- to push the primary back to the fourth Tuesday in April. That would align the Maryland primary with presidential primaries in neighboring Pennsylvania and Delaware as well as Connecticut and Rhode Island.

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Ohio Conservative Group Against Potential Move Away from Proportional Allocation Rules in 2016

Jo Ingles at WKSU in Ohio had a nice story up last week about Buckeye state conservatives' reactions to the legislation moving through the state legislature to shift the Ohio presidential primary back a week to March 15. The Republican-controlled state government is motivated to make the change in order to get the currently March 8 primary out of the proportionality window; away from that RNC mandate.

But as Ingles points out, not all Republicans in the state are on board with that idea:
Tom Zawistowski with the conservative group, Ohio Citizens PAC, says he wants proportional voting because it gives more conservative candidates an opportunity to win.
Now, FHQ raises this not to stir the pot. There was only minimal opposition to the move in the Ohio House among Republican legislators. It would be surprising if the Senate consideration of HB 153 was any different. The more important issue here is that this move and any dissension among the Republican rank-in-file in the state to that move highlights the importance of what is really at stake here.

FHQ mentioned in part three of our look at the Republican National Committee's proportionality rules changes for 2016 that there is entirely too much effort placed on the allocation rules of states within the proportionality window instead of outside of it. Furthermore, there is a problem in how we all tend to talk about those differences. The tendency has been to draw a line between proportional and not proportional when it might be better to think about this in terms of truly winner-take-all rules and everything else.

This Ohio situation is the perfect example of that.

As FHQ has pointed out, Ohio Republicans have a history with winner-take-most allocation plans. In the past the state party has given a fraction of its delegates -- the at-large delegates -- to the statewide winner of the presidential primary and the remainder out to the winners of the various congressional districts. If a candidate wins district #1, then that candidate wins all three delegates apportioned to that district by the national party. In the past, FHQ has called this winner-take-all by congressional district. Some just call it winner-take-all.

But it is not winner-take-all. The potential exists for multiple candidates to win delegates if they win plurality support in just one congressional district. Depending on the level of support for the various candidates, that could look more proportional or it could move closer to the winner-take-all end of the spectrum.

It is not clear at this point that Ohio Republicans are going toward a truly winner-take-all allocation plan for 2016. It is just clear that they are attempting to avoid the proportionality window and its mandate. But if the party returns to the winner-take-most plan that it has historically used, then maybe it will not actually be all that bad for those conservative candidates and their supporters in the Buckeye state.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Signals Support for Presidential Primary Over Caucuses in 2016

David Drucker at The Washington Examiner:
Republican leaders in Nevada are moving to junk their presidential caucuses and re-implement a standard primary election for 2016. 
There are two bills pending in the Republican-controlled legislature, including one in the Assembly carried by Speaker John Hambrick. If passed and signed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, Nevada Republicans voting in the 2016 primary would pull the lever at the polls as they do in a general election, rather than caucusing in groups similar to how the primary is conducted in Iowa. Republican insiders supportive of the legislation are expressing confidence that it will be enacted. 
"There are pros and cons to everything," Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald told the Washington Examiner on Friday. But McDonald said he is pushing for a normal primary because he and many other Silver State Republicans are unhappy with how the 2012 caucuses went down.
This is interesting.

It is interesting because it represents a reversal either at the top of the Nevada Republican Party or within the Nevada Republican Party. Drucker mentions that the chairman of the Republican Party in the Silver state supports the change and obviously the speaker of the state Assembly, who sponsored the Assembly legislation cited (AB 302), supports the change. Yet, the party vice chair, Jim DeGraffenreid, is on record (on behalf of the party) in opposition to that bill at its original hearing. Yes, that written testimony was against the original version of the legislation. At the time it called for a non-compliant January presidential primary (consolidated with the primaries for state and local offices). In his spoken testimony before the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, DeGraffenreid, as FHQ described it at the time, 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.

When the same bill was introduced in the state Senate and later heard in committee, another representative from the Nevada Republican Party -- this time James Hindle, chairman of the Storey County Republican Party and like DeGraffenreid speaking on behalf of the state party -- voiced opposition to the presidential primary idea in the bill. This time the comments were more ominous with regard to how the Nevada Republican Party viewed the idea of trading in caucuses for a primary.  Hindle indicated that the Nevada Republican Party Central Committee had voted the previous weekend to hold caucuses (after having debated the two options).

Again, the Nevada Republican Party has already voted -- and quite recently -- to hold caucuses in 2016 instead of a primary. Now, that does not mean that the party cannot change its mind. Under different leadership during the 2012 cycle, the Nevada Republican Party set its caucuses date for February 18, 2012, then January 14 and then settled on February 4 after a showdown with New Hampshire.1

Nevada Republicans may pull the trigger on a switch, but that does raise a number of questions.
  1. Which version of the presidential primary legislation will make it through the legislature? One version -- the Assembly version -- now calls for a state party to request the secretary of state to call for a presidential primary. It only takes one party. If both make that request, then the state central committees have to confer on a working day in February. Absent an agreement, the secretary of state makes the decision. The state Senate bill calls for a consolidated presidential primary (with primaries for other state and local offices) on the last Tuesday in February. The date issue is not much of a conflict, but the consolidated primary means cost savings that a separate presidential primary cannot match. However, that consolidated primary means much earlier filing deadlines and general election campaigns for all other state and local candidates. In other words, there is still much to iron out on this one.
  2. If the Assembly bill cited by Drucker is the preferred option for Silver state Republicans, how receptive will Senate bill sponsor, Senator James Settlemeyer (R-17th, Minden), be to that option? He held quite a lot of sway over his bill getting out of committee.
  3. Speaking of parties opting into or requesting the presidential primary, Nevada Democrats, at least those on the committees hearing these two bills, continue to say that Nevada was originally chosen as a carve-out state specifically as a caucuses state. Those Democratic committee members have also voiced opposition to the primary measures because the DNC rules specify that Nevada is a caucuses state. Changing that would jeopardize carve-out status, they argue. [FHQ thinks that concern is perhaps overblown. Those same Democratic rules have called for specific dates on which Nevada's caucuses were to occur during the last two cycles. Nevada has yet to actually conduct a delegate selection event on those dates (because of the actions of other states). That has not led to a loss of the state party's privileged position on the calendar, much less a loss of any delegates. Yet, if the Nevada Democratic Party thinks there is a problem there, it affects how they approach these bills (and ultimately how willing they are to pick a primary over the caucuses the party tends to have.).]
  4. Is there disagreement in the Nevada Republican Party over the primary versus caucuses question?
  5. Finally, FHQ semi-jokingly said in response to a Jon Ralston tweet about the Nevada Republican Party having difficulty raising money that Nevada Republicans might be motivated to switch to a primary so that the state would pick up the tab for the election. That would save the party the trouble of having to raise the money necessary to pull of a caucuses/convention process that has already been rocky the last two cycles. How much is the fundraising shortfall affect the decision-making here?
Nevada Republicans may "junk" their embattled caucuses, but there is a lot of nuance to this situation that may make such a switch more difficult to achieve.

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for bringing Drucker's story to FHQ's attention.

1 The typical protocol for the carve-out states has been to wait every other state out, setting the dates of their primaries and caucuses later and only after other states had chosen dates. Nevada Republicans did not follow that blueprint in 2010-11.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Time Ran Out on Washington Presidential Primary Bill

As mandated by the state constitution, the Washington state legislature must wrap up the business of its 2015 regular session by April 26. However, both chambers of the legislature ended their regular session work on Friday evening, April 24.

One of the bills -- ideas really -- left in limbo as the session closed was SB 5978. Originally, that legislation was intended to entice the state parties into using the presidential primary election to allocate at least some of their national delegates. That version passed the Republican-controlled state Senate, but has stalled in the Democratic-controlled state House. And, in fact, that bill was amended to make the presidential primary contingent upon the parties using the election to allocated at least 75% of their national convention delegates. If the parties -- both parties -- fail to use the primary and at that allocation threshold, the presidential primary election is automatically cancelled.

FHQ made the case earlier this week that that maneuver was a function of the combination of the Washington Democratic Party opting for a caucuses/convention system in 2016 and a Democratic-controlled state House moving, in part, to reflect that decision. However, there were institutional reasons driving that House Appropriations Committee amendment. As FHQ commenter, jimrtex, astutely pointed out, SB 5978 and other bills faced a number of deadlines recently. Most importantly,  that includes the April 15 deadline for bills to have passed the chamber opposite the bill's originated chamber. For SB 5978, then, that means it would have to have passed the House by April 15.

It did not.

There is, however, an exception to that cutoff: bills that have some budgetary effect. SB 5978 did not originally have any budgetary impact. It called for a presidential primary election to be held as usual,  but proposed shifting the date and the delegate allocation formula. To keep the bill alive, it had to have some effect on the budget. Adding the amendment with a trigger to automatically cancel the primary, SB 5978 now has a potential $11.5 million impact. As in, it would save the state $11.5 million in the next budget if the primary is cancelled. And really that if is a when. Again, both parties have to opt into the presidential primary and allocate 75% of their delegates through the results of that election. State Democrats have already voted to hold caucuses in 2016.

That fact -- that both parties are likely headed for caucuses -- and the fact that SB 5978 died in the House as the regular session closed means that Washington essentially has a meaningless $11.5 million expenditure in the state budget for the next two years. But that projected budget and its different versions across the two legislative chambers were not reconciled prior to the close of the session. That work will continue in a special session to convene next week.

There might be an $11.5 million presidential primary appropriation that may become part of that discussion.

EDITORIAL NOTE: The original version of this post was written Friday morning, April 24 and scheduled to run Saturday morning, April 25 to fill a travel-related gap in FHQ's postings. That post ran as scheduled, but the Washington legislature adjourned on Friday evening after the original post was in the can. The post has been edited to reflect the earlier adjournment and the upcoming special session in the Evergreen state. 

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

North Carolina Presidential Primary Bill Passes House

With crossover day looming over the proceedings at the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh, the state House moved quickly on presidential primary legislation that got the green light in committee earlier in the day.

H 457, the bill to move the presidential primary in the Tar Heel state to March 8, was favorably reported from the House Elections Committee on the morning of April 22 and was later in the evening passed by a voice vote on the House floor. The change to the primary date would bring the North Carolina presidential primary back into compliance with the national parties' delegate selection rules. As the law is currently constructed, the North Carolina presidential primary would fall on the Tuesday after the South Carolina primary. Though neither South Carolina party has officially set a primary date for the 2016 cycle, the primary in the Palmetto state is protected as a February primary by the rules of both national parties.

That would pull the North Carolina primary into February and out of compliance with those same national party rules.1 In turn, that means that both parties in North Carolina would face potential delegate reduction penalties. It is the threat of those penalties -- 50% from the DNC and over 80% from the RNC -- that has prompted the North Carolina General Assembly to consider partially reversing course on its 2013 decision to separate the North Carolina presidential primary and move it from May to February. H 457 would not shift the primary back to it traditional position in May, but would instead keep the North Carolina primary early on the presidential primary calendar while nudging it out of the pre-March 1 danger zone.

It has never been a formality that this legislation would pass the lower chamber, but it has a sponsor, Rep. David Lewis (R-53rd, Harnett), who not only chairs the House Elections Committee, but is also the North Carolina national committeeman to the RNC. With the backing of the House speaker, Lewis is a well-positioned advocate for the proposed primary date change. The expected roadblock to changing the primary date has never been in the House. It was the state Senate that added at the last minute the amendment to the omnibus elections bill changing the primary date in 2013. And it is the state Senate where vocal opposition to changing the date exists now. This bill now moves to the Senate side of the capitol building, and it is there that it will perhaps face a sterner test.

...though, there is reason to suggest that the climb will not be as steep as once thought. Senator Bob Rucho (R-39th, Mecklenburg), through whom everything elections-related goes through in the upper chamber, has moderated to some extent his previous stance backing the February date. He said Wednesday, “We’re evaluating and looking at what’s in the best interest of our state.” That is a far cry from his "we're not going to move it unless we get something out of it" position.

1 Under those rules, no state other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can hold a primary or caucuses before the first Tuesday in March (March 1 for the 2016 cycle).

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Legislation in the Works to Reestablish a Presidential Primary in Colorado

John Frank at the Denver Post is reporting that legislation is in the works to bring back a presidential primary in Colorado for the first time since the 2000 presidential election cycle. The parties in the Centennial state have operated under a caucuses/convention system in the three cycles since.

Some of the details have yet to be fully ironed out but the rough plan at this point is to reestablish the presidential primary, but leave the date up to the discretion of the governor. This is similar in some ways to how Arizona handled the setting of its presidential primary date from 2004-2012.1 Unlike Arizona, however, the proposed gubernatorial date-setting authority would be constrained. The governor would not be able to position the proposed presidential primary on a date out of compliance with the national party rules.2 In 2016, the primary could not be scheduled for a date any earlier than March 1.

The switch from caucuses to a primary would also mean that unaffiliated voters could participate; a change from the current system. Even with that provision, both parties are seemingly onboard with the switch. Via Frank:
“It provides more Coloradans the opportunity to have their voices heard in the process,” said Rick Palacio, the Democratic chairman. 
“Giving voters a choice of who represents them in the general election through a presidential primary will be good for Colorado across the board,” said GOP Chairman Steve House in a statement. “It will give this critical swing state more attention during the primaries, and it will make it easier for voters to get involved in the nomination process.”
Having everyone "onboard" now does not, however, mean that this bill will advance (see Mississippi). But it does not mean that it will not either. Colorado could end up on the earliest allowed date, March 1, where the (presidential) caucuses likely would have been set for 2016, but there are regional partners with contests on March 8 (Idaho) and March 22 (Arizona) that could prove to be inviting calendar positions to maximize the significance of the Colorado primary.

But first thing's first: the legislative process.

1 The Arizona statute at the time set the presidential primary on the last Tuesday in February, but gave the governor the ability to move the date to an earlier position on the primary calendar. That power was utilized in both 2004 and 2008 and was used as a threat in 2012.

2 This is similar to the old Florida presidential primary law passed in 2013 and altered in 2015.

Ohio House Passes Legislation to Move Presidential Primary Back a Week

The Ohio state House passed HB 153 this afternoon, April 22. The bill would shift back by one week the date of the presidential primary in the Buckeye state from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March to the second Tuesday after the first Monday in March. In 2016, that would mean a move from March 8 to March 15.

The proposed shift is not without significance. In fact, the intent of the legislation is to allow the Ohio Republican Party to conduct a presidential primary outside of the proportionality window the Republican National Committee has created on the 2016 primary calendar from March 1-14. A March 15 primary date would give Ohio Republicans the ability to allocate their national convention delegates in the presidential nomination process in a manner of its choosing. The March 8 date as currently called for in state law would require the party to allocate those delegates proportionate to the primary results (statewide and in the state's 16 congressional districts).

While House Republicans favored the change, Democrats in the lower chamber preferred an even later date -- May 3 -- that would have increased its total number of delegates in the Democratic presidential nomination process. As they did a day ago in committee, Democrats on the House floor offered an amendment to the bill to move the primary to May 3. But just as was the case a day ago, majority Republicans forced the tabling of that amendment and then moved to vote on the bill as originally introduced.

HB 153 passed on a 56-41 vote and now moves on to the state Senate for consideration.

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Bill to Move North Carolina Presidential Primary Back into Compliance Advances Out of Committee

In a short meeting this morning, April 22, the North Carolina state House Elections Committee considered and passed H 457. The legislation would simplify the current North Carolina presidential primary law, untethering it from the South Carolina primary and scheduling the election for the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. That would fall on March 8 during the 2016 presidential election cycle, a week after the proposed SEC primary.

Again, the meeting was brief and the committee only consider this one bill. However, the proceedings were seemingly not all that controversial. The idea of moving the primary back to March was met favorably by the committee. The membership only followed up with one question about the costs. The separate presidential primary would cost the state $5 million. That is still the case under the provisions of this bill. It would simply reposition the newly separated  consolidate presidential primary. The other primaries for state and local offices continue to fall in May date.1 Members also questioned why not just leave everything in May as has been the custom in North Carolina for the majority of the post-reform era (1972-present). The response from the bill's sponsors was the obvious: the later a primary is, the more likely it is to be insignificant in deciding the nomination.

The only other comment from any of the Elections Committee members was that a presidential primary before March 1 would negatively affect Democrats as well as Republicans. Both state parties would lose delegates -- 50% from the DNC and over 80% from the RNC -- if the primary election was conducted outside of the window prescribed by the national parties (on or after March 1).

The bill was then passed -- seemingly unanimously2 -- with a favorable report and now will head to the House floor for consideration.

Yet, none of this came as unexpected news. The House Elections Committee is chaired by Rep. David Lewis (R-53rd, Harnett), who not only co-sponsored the measure, but is all the Republican national committeeman from North Carolina to the RNC. Shepherding the bill through the committee stage, then, is an afterthought. How well it does on the House floor -- how controversial it is there -- remains to be seen. However, the North Carolina state House has never really been the point of obstruction for any primary move. The real impasse is between the state House and Senate. The latter is where the proponents of the tethered, February presidential primary are.

In other words, this has not heated up much yet.

1 The current law calls for the non-presidential primaries to be conducted in May as usual. The presidential primary would be separate on the Tuesday after South Carolina. All the bill would do is shift the presidential primary back into compliance with the national party rules.

2 The chair of the committee called the vote for the ayes over any nay votes there may have been. To FHQ's ear, there were no votes in opposition. That reflects the general, non-controversial discussion of the bill.

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