Friday, April 26, 2013

Maine Bill Would (Re-)Establish Presidential Primary, Bind to New Hampshire Under Certain Conditions

Earlier this year, FHQ mentioned that the Maine legislative committee charged last year with considering the prudence of a presidential primary -- as opposed to caucuses -- had passed on the idea, citing no desire among members or constituents for the switch. That conclusion did not preclude future legislative action on transitioning from caucuses to a primary as the means of allocating national convention delegates. That is particularly true, perhaps, in light of the fact that the 2012 elections saw control of both chambers of the Maine legislature swing from the Republican Party to Maine Democrats.

That seems to have been the case as Representative Deane Rykerson (D-92nd, Kittery) has introduced legislation (LD 1422) to reestablish a presidential primary in the Pine Tree state that has eight Democratic representatives and two additional independent (one representative and one senator) co-sponsors. The details of the proposed primary system are interesting:
Determination and date of primary; voter eligibility 
1 Determination of primary. Whenever the state committee of a party certifies that there is a contest among candidates for nomination as the presidential candidate of the party and that the committee has voted to conduct a presidential primary election, the State shall hold a presidential primary election. 
2 Date of primary. A presidential primary election held pursuant to subsection 1 may not be held earlier than January 1st of the year in which the presidential election is held. The date of the presidential primary election must be chosen in the following manner.
A If certification is made pursuant to subsection 1 for only one party and that party chooses a date for the presidential primary election, the State shall hold the election on that date. The party shall deliver to the Secretary of State notification of the chosen date by December 1st of the year prior to the presidential election year.  
B If certification is made pursuant to subsection 1 for more than one party and those parties agree by November 1st of the year prior to the presidential election year to one date, the State shall hold the presidential primary election on that agreed-upon date.  
C If a party does not choose a date pursuant to paragraph A or there is no agreement on a date pursuant to paragraph B, the State shall hold the presidential primary election on the first Tuesday after the presidential primary election in New Hampshire, unless that primary occurs in the preceding calendar year, in which case the election must be held on the first Tuesday in March.
If this bill is passed (and signed into law), then, the immediate impact is pretty minimal. State parties would still have the ability to hold caucuses as the means of allocating delegates, but would have a state funded primary option at their disposal. That is true even if just one party opts into the primary system.

Where things get interesting is in the area of scheduling the contest. Let's say Maine Democrats opt in to a hypothetical presidential primary and Pine Tree state Republicans maintain a caucus system. Maine Republicans would retain the ability to schedule their caucuses at any point on the calendar within the guidelines of the RNC rules (to the extent the party wants to abide by those rules). Democrats in Maine would face potential conflicts with national party rules as well, but would have the freedom to schedule a state funded primary as early as January 1 of a presidential election year. If the 2016 Democratic Party delegate selection rules are consistent with the rule that governed the 2012 process, the earliest date on which contests other than those in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina could be scheduled is the first Tuesday in March.

If both parties opt into a hypothetical state funded primary system, then they have to agree on a primary date that can be no earlier than January 1. If neither party selects a date or if the parties cannot agree on a date for the primary, then the presidential primary would be held on the Tuesday following the New Hampshire primary. First of all, that would not conflict with New Hampshire law because it would be seven days after the New Hampshire contest. That is the requisite buffer required by law in the neighboring Granite state. Secondly, however, this would only hold true if the New Hampshire primary is scheduled in the same calendar year as the presidential election. Should the New Hampshire primary be forced into, say, 2015 and no date be agreed to by the two major parties in Main, then the Maine primary would be held on the national party rules-compliant first Tuesday in March.

It should be noted, however, that the Maine state parties would have the ability to schedule the primary in the window of time reserved for the carve-out states. Maine could serve as a challenge to the rules and not really face much of a sanction on the Republican side. The jury is still out on what the DNC may do with its own 2016 penalties.

This bill is worth tracking. It is sponsored by Democrats in a Democratic-controlled legislature, but Maine does have a Republican governor currently.

Recent Posts:

Thoughts on Where the 2016 Presidential Primary Rules Stand, Part Three

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