Saturday, April 11, 2009

No Caucuses? North Dakota in 2012

Well, not exactly. However, just this past Wednesday (April 8), North Dakota Governor John Hoeven signed SB 2307 into law.

The intent of the bill? To repeal the state's presidential preference caucus.

Yeah, that sounds somewhat ominous, but it is more local quirk than anything. During the 2003 session of the North Dakota legislature, SB 2288 was proposed and passed (and ultimately became law). That started as a bill designed to coordinate both major parties' presidential preference caucuses at the state level (specifically the timing aspect). My guess here -- and it is an educated guess I'd like to think -- is that since neither party was utilizing the state's June primary as a means of allocating national party presidential delegates (instead opting to hold separate caucuses), there needed to be some effort to coordinate the parties' caucuses in order to maximize the state's impact on the nomination outcomes.

Under the new law, then, both parties had the opportunity to consult with and recommend dates (for the caucuses) to the North Dakota secretary of state, who would then designate a day (after Iowa and New Hampshire, but before the first Wednesday in March -- see NDCC 16.1-03-20 here) on which the caucuses would be held.

But here's the thing: no money exchanged hands (as evidenced by the fiscal note attendant to the original 2003 law). There was no money going from the state to the parties to fund or reimburse the parties for the caucuses. In other words, there is one thing that likely prevents the courts from overturning frontloaded primaries (specifically when there is a conflict between the timing designated by the state and when the party would actually like to hold its delegate selection event -- see Florida 2008) as unnecessary state government intervention in an internal party matter. The fact that the state is funding the election. And the state of North Dakota was not funding these caucuses. And "loose framework" though this may have been, it likely would have been a law that would have been struck down by the courts were it to be challenged.

For the 2004 and 2008 elections this wasn't a problem. The caucuses were held on the first Tuesday in February in each cycle. But in 2012, the parties will be freed from those previous restrictions to decide on their own when their presidential delegate selection events will be held. And for the first time since the 2000 cycle, that will mean that one party will not necessarily be restricted by the input of the other party in terms of when that date will fall. Republians in the state, then, won't be held hostage by the state because the Democratic Party wanted an earlier/later date than the GOP in the state wanted.

Interesting stuff from the Peace Garden State.

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