The bills regarding the presidential primaries of 2012 are already starting to be filed in several state legislatures across the country. Arkansas has been talking for almost a year about moving its newly established presidential primary from February back to May to coincide with its primaries for state and local offices. But now several states are starting to look at not only the timing of these contests but other issues as well. This week we'll look at three such states: Oklahoma, Illinois and New Jersey.
One thing we can say about states that attempt to move so early in the process is that they often aren't successful. Between 2000 and 2002, for instance, there were 26 bills before state legislatures that would have changed the timing of those states' delegate selection events, but only one was successful according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2003, though, there were 23 bills, of which, eight passed. One out of every three bill proposed passing in the year before the primaries are to be conducted is far better than the one in twenty-six chance the bills prior to 2003 had. The period between 2004 and 2008 was much the same. There was an unusual amount of successful early action, but it paled in comparison to all the movement that was witnessed in 2007. In other words, this is a long way of saying that you have to take much of this legislative action with a grain of salt (...and New Jersey hasn't even had any legislative action. In fact, much of the story on New Jersey is simply speculative at this point. There's a bit of a quirk in the law the legislature passed last year refining the timing of the presidential primary there. I'll get to that later, however.). What we do have are three interesting situations in three different states that are worth talking about.
In the Sooner state, the bill that has been filed does not deal with the timing of the state's presidential primary in 2012. The primary will still be held on the first Tuesday in February (February 7, 2012). Instead, HB 1340, sponsored by Republican Rep. Charles Key, would shift the financial burden for carrying out the primary from the state to the political parties that desire to be included on the ballot. This would put Oklahoma in a situation that is the opposite of the system that emerged in South Carolina for the 2008 cycle. South Carolina, for years has held either a party-run caucus or primary for allocating national party delegates for the purposes of presidential nominations. The parties were charged with footing the bill(s) for the contest(s). Prior to 2008, though, the South Carolina legislature passed and then overrode a gubernatorial veto to grant the state power to conduct presidential primary elections, but to also have them foot the bill. The parties maintained the ability to set the date of the election, though, to ensure that South Carolina remained the earliest primary in the South.
If, however, this bill is to pass the Oklahoma legislature and be signed into law (Republicans control both the House and the Senate in the legislature, but Democratic Governor Brad Henry may have something to say about whether the bill becomes a law.), Oklahoma could establish a model for other states to follow in these increasingly difficult economic times. The state in essence is saying, "We'll run the show, but only if you put up the money." [Alternately, South Carolina said, "We'll run the show and take the bill, but you [the parties] set the date."] And that certainly makes sense in a state where the presidential primaries and the primaries for state and local offices are separate. The presidential primary is a matter of party business and not necessarily in the domain of the states. State legislatures having control of presidential primaries in most states is simply a function of the fallout from the McGovern-Fraser reforms that were put in place in 1972. States had to come into compliance with the new rules and in most cases, the easiest way to accomplish that was to combine it with the primary elections for state and local offices -- a decision controlled by the state legislatures.
If, then, Oklahoma pulls the trigger on this bill, the example would certainly be set for other states to follow suit. Again, though, there would potentially be some variation in terms of how able states are in following the Sooner state's lead. States like Oklahoma, where the presidential primary is a separate election, would likely find it easier to pull this off than in states like North Carolina or Indiana or Texas where every elective office at stake has a primary on the same day. I suppose the latter states could simple call for parties to assist in paying the costs of the primary. And in the end, that is all HB 1340 in Oklahoma is asking, not for the parties to take on all the costs, but to take on most of them. The level would just potentially be lower in the states with concurrent primaries for president and state and local offices.
This bill, though, is certainly worth tracking.
I'll be back tomorrow with a look at the situation in Illinois for 2012. And I suppose that is fitting on the day the Land of Lincoln sees its favorite son inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States.
End of Unannounced/Unintended Hiatus
A One State Presidential Election in 2012?
A Projected 2012 Electoral College Map (version 2.0)