The big story -- if one can call it big -- was that the national party signaled the earliest points on the 2016 presidential primary calendar that the first four carve-out states can hold contests. Functionally however, this revelation was little more than a carryover of the 2012 rules. In 2012, Rule 11.A granted Iowa the ability to hold its caucuses 29 days before the first Tuesday in March.1 New Hampshire, as has become the custom, was allowed to hold its primary 21 days prior to that point -- eight days after Iowa. That is or will be no different in 2016. Iowa can go as early as February 1 -- 29 days before the first Tuesday in March (March 1) -- and New Hampshire can follow on February 9 -- 21 days before March 1.
What the RBC did change was how Nevada and South Carolina are treated by Rule 11. The 2012 rule actually conflicted with New Hampshire state law in that it allowed Nevada Democrats to hold their caucuses 17 days before the first Tuesday in March. That allowed only a four day cushion between New Hampshire and Nevada. The statute in the Granite state requires a seven day cushion between the first in the nation New Hampshire primary and any other similar contest following it. The DNC rule for 2012 contradicted that.
Rule 11 no longer contains that "oversight".2 In a nod to the reality that both Nevada and South Carolina prefer Saturday delegate selection events, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee has given the green light to Nevada caucuses 10 days prior to March 1 -- and 11 days after New Hampshire -- and a South Carolina Democratic primary 3 days prior to that first Tuesday in March.
That latter rule regarding the position of the South Carolina primary likely will ensure that the Democratic and Republican primaries in the Palmetto state will once again be held on different dates. That will definitely be the case should March 1 end up being a de facto southern or southeastern primary day. South Carolina Republicans -- like the situation in New Hampshire -- require (by custom, not law) a seven day window between the South Carolina primary and the next earliest southern contest. The SCGOP also prefers a Saturday contest, meaning that a February 20 date is likely (assuming no other calendar shenanigans). That would put the South Carolina Republican primary on the same date as the Nevada Democratic caucuses and perhaps even the Republican caucuses in the Silver state. That sequence of contests is similar to the positioning on the 2008 calendar.
The primary dates section of the rules brought some minor changes, then, but that really was not the real surprise to come out of the brief Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting in Washington, DC on Friday. The real surprise -- to FHQ anyway -- was that there was no change and no discussion of changing the penalties associated with rules violations. As recently as last fall there was some discussion -- outside of the RBC -- of the party considering a stiffer penalty on rogue primary states (those that violate the timing rules). At that time, the word was that the RBC would perhaps consider a penalty similar to the RNC super penalty. That may have happened, but did not in the context of one of the Rules and Bylaws Committee public meetings. In any event, Rule 20 was left unchanged for 2016 as compared to its 2012 version. That means a few things:
- States that violate the timing rules for scheduling their delegate selection events will be docked 50% of their delegates. That is the very same penalty that has proven ineffective with a select few agitators over the last couple of presidential election cycles. But…
- The Rules and Bylaws Committee still reserves the right to increase the penalty (Rule 20.C.5) or through its recommendation and an affirmative vote from the Democratic National Committee's Executive Committee to conduct a compliant party-run contest (Rule 21.C).
- There is some lack of uniformity between the RNC penalties and the DNC penalties. However, that difference is more a reflection of the RNC more explicitly laying out the exact consequences of violation and the DNC allowing itself a bit more leeway in assessing an appropriate penalty should the rules be broken.
It is a fighting chance, but now that the national parties have moved, the ball is in the states' court. Whether the states will comply is a question for 2015. It will be interesting.
1 The latter reference point date was the earliest date on which non-carve-out states could conduct the first step of their delegate selection process without penalty from the national parties.
2 This is another win for the New Hampshire primary in terms of assists its calendar position has gotten from the national parties. The RNC has already indicated that all four carve-out states have the ability to move to a spot on the calendar up to a month before the next earliest contest without incurring a penalty from the party. In 2012, the RNC only allowed the carve-outs to shift to dates on or after February 1 without penalty (see Rule 15(b)(1)).
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