Thursday, April 26, 2012

House-Passed Bill in Virginia to Consolidate Primaries in Presidential Election Years to Be Considered in 2013 in State Senate

File this one under "bills that were active in 2012 and may eventually have an impact on 2016". [Were being the operative word.]

The Virginia General Assembly considered during its 2012 legislative session -- back in January and February -- a bill to consolidate its presidential primary and the primaries for state and local offices. The legislation -- HB 55 -- would, for the time being, keep the presidential primary on the first Tuesday in March and primaries for state and local offices in midterm years on the second Tuesday in June. However, the bill would move the presidential year primaries for state and local offices to coincide with the presidential primary.1 The impact statement indicates that the measure would not save the state any substantial amount from a budgetary perspective but would have the "potential" to aid local governments in their efforts in conducting the elections.

HB 55 passed the state House by a nearly 3:1 margin in January and was then referred to the state Senate. While the 2012 session adjourned, the bill will be carried over to the 2013 session where it will then be considered by the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections.

The true impact of this is negligible in terms of the presidential primary and Virginia's place on the 2016 presidential primary calendar, but it should be noted that this does potentially alter -- assuming the HB 55 passes and is signed into law in 2013 -- the calculus for those candidates seeking nomination to either chamber of Congress or local offices. What I mean by that is that with the move to hold those primaries concurrently with the presidential primary comes a relative increase in the level of turnout for the primaries for offices other than president. Those candidates who traditionally thrive in low turnout environments will have to adjust to a higher turnout setting. This is more of an issue for those down-ballot races that will also have to deal with ballot roll off anyway.

File this one away though. It is more important in that it fits with another emerging characteristic of primary movement in the 2012 cycle: budgetary constraints of conducting elections. This fits in nicely with other states that consolidated primaries for 2012: Alabama, Arkansas, California, New Jersey and Utah (Republicans).

1 Virginia election law refers to these primaries as the "primaries for the nomination of candidates for offices to be voted on at the general election date in November". These are primaries more for local offices than state offices. Most of the latter are voted on and nominated in odd year elections. However, the list of offices that would have their primaries shifted up to and earlier date does include members of the Virginia congressional delegation -- both US House and Senate.

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