Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Big Advantage New Hampshire Has Over Florida on Primary Scheduling

Basically, it can be summed up in one simple explanation: New Hampshire has done it before.

More and more Florida elections officials are expressing concern over newly-passed elections law in the state, but more to the point, the uncertainty surrounding the scheduling of the Sunshine state's presidential primary (via Aaron Deslatte at the Orlando Sentinel's Central Florida Political Pulse Blog):

Indian River Elections Supervisor Leslie Swan has qualms about the elections reform Gov. Rick Scott signed into law last month – specifically, the provision that creates a new commission and gives its members until October to set the date for the state’s presidential primary.
Swan said in a press release Wednesday that the timing might not give county election supervisors enough time to train poll workers and choose voting locations.
“The uncertainty of the exact date for the Presidential Preference Primary Election really leaves our office in a difficult position as far as scheduling training for our poll workers and securing polling locations,” Swan said.
“We are hoping for a decision prior to the October 1, 2011 deadline in order to prepare for this election.”
The Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee (PPPDSC) was created to provide Florida with the flexibility to set the date of their primary outside of the confines of the early state legislative session. The byproduct of this, however, is that the burden has been shifted from a state legislature having to act within a very small window of time to local elections officials having to prepare for a primary election in an unknown period of time. If the PPPDSC waits until the October 1 deadline to set a date and chooses the earliest possible date -- January 3 -- that would leave elections officials in Florida just three months to prepare.

Is that enough time? Who knows? Florida has never been in this position before. Well, Florida elections administrators haven't anyway. It should be noted that there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Florida primary in 2008; not the date so much, but whether it would be held and/or whether it would count. Of course, the state had that January 2008 primary in place as of May 2007 and acted as if there were no problems (The state was and is Republican-controlled and all the attention to Florida in 2008 was on the Democratic side in terms of the penalties for holding an early, pre-window primary.). Elections officials had time, in other words. In 2012, they will not have as much warning/preparation time.

Things operate slightly differently in New Hampshire. The scheduling flexibility is there as well with the decision resting in the hands of the secretary of state (Only current secretary of state, Bill Gardner (D) has ever held the date-designating power since the transition from state legislative control over that decision before the 1976 primary.). But New Hampshire has done this before. And though local elections officials were wary of having to prepare for a primary with an unknown date as late as November 2007 -- a primary that was rumored to potentially take place in mid-December of that year -- they were still confident that they could pull it off with as little notice as a week or two.

Granted, Gardner waited until the eve of Thanksgiving to choose the date for the 2008 primary in 2007, so waiting Florida out until October 1 at the latest will be comparatively easy in 2011 relative to 2007.1 Still, even absent that previous experience, New Hampshire has added flexibility in setting a date than Florida does. This may not be a big item now, but as the fall rolls around, we may start hearing more about it.

1 Georgia's new December 1 deadline for its secretary of state to select a presidential primary may be more problematic to Gardner and New Hampshire.

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