Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Alabama Bill to Eliminate Separate February Primary Introduced

Legislators in Alabama wasted little time on the opening day of the state's legislative session in acting to alter the election law regarding the timing of the presidential primary there. Rep. Steve Clouse (R-93rd, Dale & Houston) introduced HB 32 which would eliminate the state's separate presidential primary and move it from the first Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday in June where it would coincide with the primaries for state and local offices. The move would save the state $3.9 million (see the Financial Note on the bill below). Another $250,000 is saved by removing the Mardi Gras-specific language that was added to the law in 2007 when the primary was created and moved to February. The February primary conflicted with Mardi Gras in 2008 and required state reimbursement of funds used in localities forced to make alternative arrangements because of that conflict.

The bill has some bipartisan support among the eleven co-sponsors (9 Republicans and 2 Democrats) of the measure. Given the shift from Democratic to Republican control of both chambers of the Alabama legislature and the fact that Republicans hold a nearly two to one advantage in both House, it is unlikely that Democratic support is necessary. But it does exist.

Alabama becomes the eleventh state (including DC) to propose legislation moving its presidential primary back during 2011 and the fifth (including DC) to propose eliminating a separate presidential primary in order to combine that process with later primaries for state and local offices. These cost-saving measures are slowly proliferating in 2011 after (but not necessarily because) Arkansas started the trend in 2009. These moves along with efforts to eliminate 2012 presidential primaries altogether in Kansas and Washington paint a clear picture of the financial environment in which state legislatures are working and the means through which they are cutting costs.

Finally, Alabama is no stranger to moving a presidential primary backwards. The state, after having occupied a position on the second Tuesday in March from 1980-1988, moved back to June in 1992.

Fiscal note to HB 32:


House Bill 32 as introduced moves the presidential preference primary to June, beginning in 2012, which will result in one less election during 2012 and every fourth year thereafter. Having one less election will reduce election expenses paid from the State General Fund by an estimated $3,900,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012, and by a similar amount every fourth fiscal year thereafter.

In addition, this bill deletes language that allows counties that recognize Mardi Gras as a holiday to be reimbursed for election expenses as a result of the day of the presidential preference primary being the same day as Mardi Gras. The deletion of this provision will further decrease the election expenses, paid from the State General Fund, by an estimated $250,000 for any fiscal year in which the presidential preference primary date is on the same day as Mardi Gras.

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