Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Oregon in 2012

Back in January I discussed several states where legislative action was already underway to shift presidential primary dates for the 2012 cycle. Recently though, I happened upon a great new resource -- thanks to the good folks at Election Updates -- for tracking various election reform legislation in state legislatures. As it turns out, there are several states missing from consideration. Now, Oklahoma's bill doesn't deal with the date of the primary, only where the funding is coming from and the New Jersey discussion was based not on a direct date change but on a law that allows the lieutenant governor the ability to change a primary date if it conflicts with a religious holiday. However, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois and North Carolina have actually proposed date-shifting bills and had varying levels of success in passing them (Arkansas' passed and Illinois' is still in committee.). In both cases however, the moves (or potential moves) buck the recent trends and shift their states' presidential primaries to later dates in 2012.

[Click Map to Enlarge]

But not everyone is backloading. This week, then, we'll have a few more installments in this series detailing state legislative action on this front. There is actually additional legislation in both the Illinois and New Jersey legislatures that would shift their presidential primaries in 2012 and beyond to later dates. Also, there is a bill before the New Hampshire General Court -- the Granite state's legislature -- that tweaks the language of the state's presidential primary law to further protect the its first-in-the-nation status. Finally, there is also a bill being considered in the Oregon legislature to move the Beaver state's presidential primary (and all other primaries for state and local offices) to the first week in February.

And that's where we'll start.

Oregon has done this before. In 1996, the Beaver state shifted its presidential primary into March (from May) and ended up aligned with the remnants of the 1988 Southern Super Tuesday and more importantly two weeks ahead California (which had also already moved that cycle). That did not prove a good mood since most of the GOP candidates' attention was focused on the nearly contiguous group of southern states. In 2000, then, Oregon opted to save money (I'll have to track down the data I have on this from the Oregon Secretary of State's office. Off the top of my head the state saved $3 million by backloading in 2000.). What's curious is that the state's voters approved the statewide mail-in ballot system in 1998, so it could have been done more cheaply in 2000 as a result.

Oregon also unsuccessfully attempted to jump on the 2008 Super Tuesday bandwagon in 2007. Here's what I wrote in the late summer of 2007:
Since Oregon's legislature adjourned for the year on June 28 and no action was taken since April on the one bill (HB 2084) which would have moved Oregon's 2008 presidential primary to February 5, the state appears destined to hold it primary toward the end of the process (on May 20).
In 2007 the bill was introduced in the House at the request of Democratic Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. In 2009, though, the action has originated in the State Senate from the Republican minority. This isn't a surprise since typically changes of this type take place within the party outside of the White House. Again, the bill (SB 412) would shift the Oregon primaries for all offices to the first Tuesday in February in any presidential election year. And thus far Oregon is the only state other than North Carolina to propose moving ahead (Indiana doesn't count here, yet.). On top of that, the Beaver state is moving all the other primary elections forward.

That is the other, law-based layer to the frontloading calculus: move just the presidential primary or move everything (States like California, Maryland and Texas have insisted on this in the past: having every primary at once.). In 2008, then, to take two examples from this current crop of states looking to move for 2012, Arkansas split its primaries and moved the new presidential primary forward, whereas Illinois opted to move everything up to February 5. Arkansas has since repealed the presidential primary, moving the contest back to May in 2012. Illinois, where winter weather-related drags on turnout in February are problematic, has also discussed moving back with a caveat. [I'll revisit Illinois in another post.] Oregon, then, is taking the Illinois approach in 2008 approach. [North Carolina, for instance, is proposing the Arkansas approach in reverse.]

Well, the proposed approach is like Illinois' in 2008. The bill was introduced during the first week in February and was immediately referred to the Senate Rules Committee where it has been couped up since that time. Again, the proposal is a Republican one in a Democratic-controlled legislature (and a Democratic governor to boot). The likelihood of this getting out of committee, then, is lower because of the partisan implications involved. The legislature will adjourn until 2011 (barring a special session next year) no later than June 30. So there is a time constraint here as well.

Next: Back to New Jersey

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Greg Boike said...

Wow. That would be interesting. Here's one question: because Oregon uses mail-in ballots, which could certainly be returned before the first Tuesday in February, do they effectively secure themselves importance almost as great as Iowa and New Hampshire, assuming candidates will have to campaign there a lot before the Super Tuesday by which ballots would be due?

Josh Putnam said...

Ooh, a very good question, Greg.

Let's explore, shall we. According to the Oregon Secretary of State's Elections Division FAQ on Vote by Mail in the Beaver state, all ballots are mailed out anywhere from 14 to 18 days before the election.

"When are the ballots mailed to the voters?

In Oregon, ballots will be mailed any time between the 14th and 18th days before an election."

That window would fall between January 20 and 24. Now let's look over to the left sidebar and see where that is on the primary calendar. Yep, right smack in the middle of the hypothetically latest possible dates on which Iowa and New Hampshire would go. Before South Carolina. Before Nevada. And before Florida.

This would indeed be a very clever way of getting candidate attention. Of course other states on Super Tuesday (if it ends up being on February 7, 2012) would also presumably have some sort of early voting regime in place. That would provide the candidates with another similar group of voters to chase after.

That's the only obstacle I see from Oregon's perspective. And what that really does -- early and mail-in voting, that is -- is put pressure on Iowa and New Hampshire to go even earlier. More convenient voting in other states makes that week long cushion New Hampshire has traditionally insisted on seem even more meaningless.

Good question.