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.

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).

The 2020 presidential primary calendar


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

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.

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.

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.

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).

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

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.

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.

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.

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).

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] February Presidential Primary Bill Fails to Gain Traction in West Virginia

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.

Midway through the 2017 session of the West Virginia legislature then-state senator, Jeff Mullins (R-9th(A), Raleigh) introduced SB 33. The intent of the bill was to uproot the biennial state primary -- which includes the presidential primary every fourth year -- from its traditional second Tuesday in May position to the second Friday in February.

Although the bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration, it was never taken up by the panel. It never received a hearing and languished there the rest of the session. There are a number of reasons for that. Year after presidential election year shifts of primary elections are not all that common.

But the proposed change probably had something to do with the stalled progress of SB 33 as well. The proposed February timing obviously violates the national party rules on presidential primary scheduling. That would have made national convention delegations from the state vulnerable to penalties reducing the number of delegates. Such a shift into February would also have placed the primary in the middle of the state legislative session, forcing state legislators to campaign for their own renominations during the session. Primary scheduling around legislative sessions remains a hang up for many states with consolidated primaries.

In the bigger picture -- historically -- West Virginia has also been hampered by what one might call the negative inertia of tradition. The Mountain state has held a primary on dates other than the second Tuesday in May in the post-reform era, but it has been rare. Other than the two cycles -- 1980 and 1984 -- when the presidential primary was in early June, the only other West Virginia exception is when Mountain state Republicans allocated delegates in a February state convention in 2008.1

That confluence of factors derailed this bill from the start.

One note on the proposed Friday primary:
They have not been typical in the post-reform era, but there have been some. Notably, the Colorado/Utah/Wyoming subregional primary in 2000 fell on a Friday. But under the current national party rules, a hypothetical second Friday in February West Virginia primary would fall just three days after the New Hampshire primary position carved out in Democratic Party rules. That would violate New Hampshire state law.

1 No, West Virginia is not exactly part of the South, but when the Southern Super Tuesday of 1988 was forming, West Virginia moved up, too, but only back to its traditional position in May from early June.

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] "Flamethrower" Presidential Primary Bill Gets Bogged Down in Texas

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.

This is a fun one.

During the 2017 Texas state legislative session, Rep. Lyle Larson (R-122, San Antonio) once again introduced proactive legislation to move the presidential primary (and all others that are traditionally consolidated with it in the Lone Star state) to the fourth Tuesday in January. HB 3180 would have had the same effect as the legislation Larson authored in 2015. And it ended up in the same place: on the sidelines as the legislature wrapped up its business.

This is a fun one because the committee discussion around it neatly encapsulated the thinking of many frontloading era state legislators. That basically amounts to "Why do Iowa and New Hampshire get to have all the fun? Why can't we jump on that bandwagon too? Or have our turn in the first-in-the-nation spotlight?"

For years it was enough for states -- state legislators and state legislatures -- to move up and cluster their primaries and caucuses on the earliest date allowed by the national parties. There were exceptions -- the attempted Delaware incursion on New Hampshire's turf in 1996 comes to mind -- but the early states were able to maneuver around that threat and watched most states file in behind them, clustered on the first Tuesday in either February or March (depending on the cycle and the rules).

That changed in the 2008 cycle when Florida and Michigan, two larger states, pushed their presidential primaries into January and forced Iowa and New Hampshire to the cusp of 2007 contests.    The January 15 position Michigan carved out for its primary left just enough space on the calendar to fit New Hampshire in a week before on January 8. However, Iowa had to violate its own eight day buffer and settle for a January 3 date to avoid pushing into 2007 (and the end of year holiday season). In other words, the early states got pressure from both ends: Florida and Michigan on the back end and the new year on the front side.

But a prospective Texas move to the end of January would be different (in isolation) from the provocative maneuvering of Florida and Michigan of 2008. Such a move would not -- as Larson suggested during the public committee hearing for HB 3180 -- be the opening move in a negotiation that would lead to Texas being the first primary. Rather, an end of January Texas primary would lead to much the same result as 2008. It would leave enough space in 2020 to fit the four carve-out states in with a squeeze similar to 2008 between Iowa and New Hampshire.

Of course, the national party rules have change since then to avoid just this sort of scenario. Importantly, the Republican Party added a super penalty to curb timing violations like the one Larson raised in this legislation; one that would penalize a January Texas primary by reducing the Republican delegation from the Lone Star state by over 90 percent. That complication was something voiced by Eric Opeila of the Republican Party of Texas when spoke against Larson's bill in the public hearing.

In fact, as was the case with Larson's 2015 version of the same bill, all those who rose to speak on the bill spoke against it. While all of the witnesses continued to voice opposition to the 2017 bill moving the primary to January, unlike 2015, they all universally offered sympathy for the cause: disrupting the early primary calendar.

Despite the unanimous opposition from those who spoke -- from both major state parties and election administrators -- in the public hearing, HB 3180 was unanimously passed by the House Elections Committee with a "do pass" recommendation. In fact, when it was re-introduced for that committee vote, Larson's bill was called "the flamethrower" before the committee chair said, "Let's send a message." That was a departure from the 2015 bill which was ultimately bottled up in committee where it died. The 2017 version met the same fate, but not before advancing from committee to the calendar for floor consideration (where it died).

That marks an incremental change from 2015, the end point of which would likely be replicated in 2019 should another version of this January Texas primary bill be introduced. And in the end, the benefits are clearly outweighed by the costs; in penalties and position. Texas would move up only to see the carve-out states shift up and past it leaving the Texas primary penalized and still in the fifth position it currently shares with other states on Super Tuesday.

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

Thursday, May 24, 2018

DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee to Fix "Mistake" in Pre-Window Calendar

John DiStaso from WMUR in New Hampshire:
Democratic National Committeewoman Kathy Sullivan said she expects a correction will soon be made to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee’s proposed 2020 schedule of early caucus and primary states to ensure no conflicts are on the horizon.
Sullivan said that due to a clerical error, the draft discussed at the meeting two weeks ago set up a potential conflict between New Hampshire and Nevada – not unlike a major controversy that erupted on the Republican side in the fall of 2011 prior to the 2012 primaries and caucuses.
“It was a mistake,” she said after conferring with DNC officials. “Everyone now understands and it was the intention that the calendar should be the same as it was in 2016.” In that year, the New Hampshire Primary was held on Feb. 9 and Nevada followed until 11 days later, Feb. 20.

Placing Nevada just four days after New Hampshire in the proposed Rule 12.A was something FHQ raised in the aftermath of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting in early May where the group adopted a framework for delegate selection rules in 2020. The fix is likely to occur when the RBC reconvenes in early June to finalize recommendations for changes to the delegate selection rules and call for the convention.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Some Notes on the "Democratic Party To-Do List"

It is strange what does and does not pick up steam on social media sometimes.

When late last week I flagged the Astead Herndon article in the New York Times updating the Democratic efforts to finalize rules for the 2020 presidential nomination process, I was doing so more for personal reasons. As I explained in the remainder of the thread, I was more interested in bookmarking the article because there were several notes in it that deserved some attention if not pushback.

The window of attention was much more immediate for FHQ, then, than it was seemingly taken by most. Again, whereas I meant to relatively soon get back to what I see as the flaws of the NYT piece, most took it as FHQ flagging the proposed rule change -- specifically the scaling back of superdelegates -- for a time, far down the road, when the unintended consequences of the change will potentially be felt.

But the thing is, that overall story has not changed -- the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee continues to consider what it will do with respect to the 2020 rules in general and specifically regarding superdelegates -- and the NYT story does not really add much to that. That is not to suggest that the story adds nothing -- it does, which I'll note below -- but it is mainly superfluous to items reported before or in the immediate aftermath of the Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting on May 8-9.

Look, if one thing is a constant around here at FHQ it is that changing the rules changes the game. FHQ's mission has almost always been to not only detail how and in what ways the parties are altering their presidential nomination processes, but the impact those changes do and do not have on how those processes arrive at a conclusion; a presidential nominee.

We remain far removed from the ultimate opportunity to assess whether specific rules changes for 2020 will lay the groundwork for unintended consequences in 2020. After all, we do not yet know what the final rules will look like (and will not until probably August). What remains somewhat clear this far out, however, is that the combination of a backward looking, 2016-tinged fight over superdelegates ahead of a 2020 cycle that looks like it will produce a large field of candidates is potentially mismatched. Reducing the role of superdelegates in the evolving primary season delegate count runs the risk of straining the math of that proportional allocation process. If enough candidates survive a long enough period into primary season, and if those candidates are qualifying for delegates -- hitting 15 percent of the vote statewide and/or at the congressional district level -- then the likelihood of some candidate receiving 50 percent of the delegates plus one to clinch the nomination shrinks. But those are big ifs as of now (and worth a separate post from FHQ at some point). Big because we do not yet know what the final contours of the rules will be and big because it remains early, early enough that there is still a ton of uncertainty involved in how the process will progress for Democrats over the next couple of years.

Now, about that NYT story...

I have a few thoughts that are best dealt with through some annotations alongside the passages in the piece.

#1: The compromise?

Following a lede that reestablishes the lingering divisions in the party after 2016 and a brief description of its symbolic cornerstone -- the superdelegates' role in the Democratic nomination process -- Herndon lays the groundwork of a compromise for 2020. This is not wrong, but it is a timeline truncated enough to be misleading.

The true compromise on superdelegates between the Sanders and Clinton camps, it could be argued, happened back in December when the Unity Reform Commission (URC) finalized its recommendations to the Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC). Those suggestions included a couple of options for scaling back the influence of superdelegates, and in the time since, a third option to more comprehensively reduce the role of superdelegates has been entertained by the RBC.

But what is lacking in the description above is that the compromise is without context. The membership of the URC was divided among Sanders and Clinton appointees. That was clear from the start. The RBC, however, is not. In fact when the new RBC membership was revealed in October 2017 there were complaints about how it was stacked against Sanders, his supporters, and their collective interests:
But Zogby alleges that the rules and bylaws committee chosen by Perez is stacked against the Sanders-aligned reformers.

“Not a single person from the Bernie camp is in the new bylaws groups, but five people from the Clinton side are,” Zogby said. “That’s not a way to get unity.”
There is, then, an inside-outside dynamic involved. It is not that the Sanders faction cannot continue to lobby the RBC to make changes consistent with the URC recommendations (or even more aligned with their various stances), but they are doing so from outside the Rules and Bylaws Committee. The RBC has its own divisions/differences that do not so easily fit in that Clinton-Sanders compromise narrative. The committee is balancing a number of overlapping interests.

#2: An aside on superdelegates

Herndon then jumps into some specifics on the superdelegates proposals. Look, I have been guilty of using this description, too. It is easy on social media in particular. However, it should be said that there is no plan to eliminate (or later in the section on Donna Brazile, "eradicate") superdelegates. This is a semantics issue, but well worth a mention.

There are two things that make superdelegates super. First, they are granted automatic delegate status.  Elected officials, in other words, do not have to run against rank-and-file members of the party -- often their constituents -- for national convention delegate positions. That is no small thing. Having those automatic delegates means there are more delegate slots for the grassroots member of the party.

The second feature that gives superdelegates something super is their unpledged voting status on the presidential nomination vote. Throughout the superdelegates era (1984-present) in the Democratic presidential nomination process, superdelegates have not been tethered to specific candidates based on the voting in primaries and caucuses. Rather, they have been free to choose to align with a particular candidate (or to choose not to) for any reason or combination of reasons of their choosing.

None of the three options that are on the plates of the members of the RBC seek to alter the first superdelegate feature. They will continue to exist -- to have their positions automatically carved out -- in roughly the same numbers in 2020 as 2016. And importantly, the roughly same number of superdelegates would retain the ability to vote on all matters before the national convention in 2020. That would include votes on the platform, votes on the rules, and, say, hypothetical votes by the full convention to unbind any bound delegates on (or allow superdelegates back into) the first ballot vote.1

The only area in which the potential reforms seek to affect superdelegates is on their unpledged voting status on the presidential nomination vote. And even then, the effects extend to just the first ballot and to (in two of the three cases) a fraction of the total number of superdelegates. FHQ tries to use the same "revise the role and reduce the perceived influence of superdelegates" description from the March RBC interim report adopted by the DNC. It can be a mouthful and not particularly well-suited to social media, but does accurately describe what is on the table.

#3: Forcing states

Let's quickly dispense with this one. There is no forcing here. Yes, the URC discussed at length different ways to encourage increased participation in the nomination process. And while some of those meetings included talk of requiring states to make such changes to registration rules or whether unaffiliated voters should participate, the reality is much easier said than done. Much of the language coming out of the current RBC meetings and likely to make it into the ultimate delegate selection rules in 2020 is more about encouraging states to move in these directions where feasible. And this is made clear in the primaries section of the RBC interim report.

#4: Summer meetings

This is a minor point, but Herndon lays out the path ahead for rules changes toward the end of the piece. But in so doing, he makes it sound as if the RBC has a number of public meetings ahead, peppering the summer months. The committee will meeting in conjunction with the June DNC Executive Committee meeting where the group will dig into the 2020 Call for the Convention (which includes some specifics on delegate apportionment and allocation) and seek to finalize the superdelegates and party reform sections of the URC recommendations. That is a long list, and even though the timing may extend beyond the URC/convention-mandated window for RBC consideration of the URC recommendations (end of June), an additional meeting in July may be required to deal with it all.

If past is prelude, then the DNC will adopt the 2020 rules as it has tended to in August.

Now, as FHQ mentioned above, the Herndon's story is not completely devoid of news. Part of that comes from Larry Cohen's comments and the impression they left:

Rather than indicating a sense of continued division, the former head of Our Revolution painted a picture of a leadership team at the DNC that is pushing forward and advocating for the reforms called for by the Unity Reform Commission. FHQ would add that the Rules and Bylaws Committee has had a measured and open consideration of the URC recommendations that has stretched beyond and not simply rehashed the Clinton-Sanders divide. Maintaining a balance on that front has been a thread throughout, to be sure, but there has been a thorough consideration of the practical implications of rules, rules changes, implementation, and unintended consequences.

As always, the proof is in the pudding on these things. Keeping folks "at bay" during rules discussions is one thing. Doing so after the rules are set in stone may be another altogether.

Another part is in Donna Brazile's comments:

There is no official whip count on these things. If there was it would be fluid and very much unofficial. The RBC is going to aim for a set of recommendations that is as close to unanimous as possible. This is the same principle FHQ discussed here with respect to how the RBC would deal with the URC recommendations. Unanimity means consensus, and consensus adds pressure to the next group considering recommendations. Any division is more likely to lead to a maintenance of the status quo.

In other words, tweaks will be made to ensure that the RBC is as close to on the same page as possible.

One could glean a sense of that tweaking process in Brazile's comments laying down a marker on the proposal to completely remove superdelegate voting rights on the first ballot of the presidential nomination at the national convention. Parsimonious though that proposal may be, there is certainly going to be resistance to the idea within the DNC. That is not any breaking news alert. And Brazile is not alone in that resistance among the members of the RBC.

But that idea is out there.

We further know that there are pockets of support and opposition to the other two options; those from the URC. RBC member, Elaine Kamarck, has voiced some opposition to the pooled vote plan. The Congressional Black Caucus has as well. That points the process in the direction of the alternate vote option. That is the messiest, most complicated proposal of the bunch, and those complications are often enough to drive RBC members in the direction of the more elegant option Brazile opposes above.

The bottom line is that the RBC is in the midst of a balancing act on superdelegates that will ultimately produce some recommendations -- on superdelegates and other rules changes -- for full DNC to consider in August. The only thing on superdelegates that is clear at this point is that leaving them untouched is not on the table at this stage.

1 These latter options are not all that likely to happen. There are a number of political reasons neither would. However, such hypothetical votes are absolutely something on which the full convention could vote.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] Utah Will Have a Presidential Primary Option in 2020

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.

For much of the post-2016 period, FHQ, in looking ahead to the 2020 cycle, has often raised the caucus-to-primary shifts in Colorado, Maine, and Minnesota. All three formerly caucus states in various ways laid the groundwork in 2016 for 2020 presidential primaries. But that trio of states is not alone in the switch.

In its 2017 session, the Utah state legislature passed legislation -- which was ultimately signed into law -- to provide for a state-funded and run presidential primary option in the Beehive state for the 2020 cycle. And the motivation for HB 204 was borne out of the chaotic Utah caucuses of 2016 the turnout of which overwhelmed both parties in the state. Both the primary sponsor of the bill -- Representative Patrice Arent (D-36th, Millcreek) -- and others providing testimony in committee hearings for the legislation recounted stories of long lines, lack of parking, and understaffed caucus locations in both parties' processes. That prompted Rep. Arent to introduce the bill to "leave running elections to the experts -- our state elections office and the county clerks. Because political parties should be in the business of winning elections, not run[ning] them."

While that sentiment was not exactly shared by the two political parties in the state, both the chairs of the Utah Republican Party, James Evans, and the Utah Democratic Party, Peter Carroon, voiced support for the move. Evans, in particular, supported the state providing for a presidential primary election, but leaving it up to the state parties to opt into using the election as a means of allocating national convention delegates.

The state did not fund a presidential primary in either of the 2012 or 2016 cycles. It did for 2012 give parties the option of using the June state primary for expressing presidential preference to allocate delegates. The Utah Republican Party opted into in that June primary in 2012, but its late June date was non-compliant (too late) with both parties timing rules in 2016. A failed effort to move (from February to March) and fund a separate presidential primary in 2016 occurred in the same winter/spring 2015 time period that the Utah Republican Party was signaling an inclination to conduct the delegate allocation/selection process through a caucus/convention system.

For 2020, Utah Republicans, with it uncertain to unlikely that President Trump will face any competition for the Republican presidential nomination, will retain the ability to hold caucuses. However, both state parties will have the ability to avoid the caucus chaos of 2016 with an option of a state-run 2020 presidential primary. The state will put up some funds for the primary, but local/county  governments will seemingly bear the brunt of most of the costs.

What is and was left unclear in 2017 effort to fund a 2020 presidential primary is when that primary will be held. Currently, state parties have two options on that front. The Western States Presidential Primary is scheduled for the first Tuesday in February. If and only if that option is not funded by the state -- and it was not in either 2012 or 2016 -- then the state parties can opt into the late June state primary. But neither date fits into the window -- first Tuesday in March to mid-June (different June cutoffs for both parties) -- allowed by the national parties for states to conduct their delegate selection events.

That means that with the funding now there, the Utah legislature will have to revise the date of the 2020 presidential primary during its 2019 session.

It should be noted that the legislation -- HB 204 -- signed into law funds/requires a "presidential primary", but not the Western States Presidential Primary specifically. Now, that requirement does appear in the Western State Presidential Primary section of the Utah Code, but is not exactly a requirement for that February contest. FHQ raises this uncertainty with respect to its treatment of the Utah presidential primary on the 2020 presidential primary calendar. The Utah legislature will set the date in 2019, and for now, FHQ is categorizing the primary in the Beehive state as having no date (due to the lack of clarity in the code). It is a fine distinction, but FHQ categorizes Utah as in need of setting a date and not in need of changing a non-compliant date.

The Utah law has been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.