Thursday, September 25, 2014

Michigan Bill Would Undermine February Presidential Primary

FHQ has been sitting on this one for a while, but with all the stirrings among Michigan Republicans concerning the date of their 2016 primary and the rules by which they will allocate delegates to the national convention, this becomes slightly more relevant.

To review, the Michigan Republican Party has pinpointed March 15 as the preferred landing point for its presidential primary in 2016. And while that is a preference, it is not binding. The date decision rests not with the state parties, but with the state government.1 In other words, if Michigan Republicans want that March 15 primary date, they will need some help from the state legislature for a start.

It has been relatively quiet on that front in Lansing (and elsewhere) during 2014. Midterm years are not typically when the majority of states consider presidential primary moves. The tendency is for state legislatures to act in the year prior to the presidential election, after the midterm elections that elect a fair number of those legislatures, but also, more importantly, after the national parties have settled on the rules that will govern the delegate selection process in the upcoming election year.

Still, there has been some legislative activity in Michigan that would potentially have some impact on the scheduling of the state's presidential primary.2 Back in May, Rep. Lisa Lyons (R-86th, Kent) introduced HB 5584 to pare back some of the primary date options available to the state. Importantly, the bill calls for eliminating the February primary date that the presidential primary was paired with in 2012. However, it does not eliminate the presidential primary. The bill doesn't even mention it.

Eliminating the February option is significant, though, in that the date was used as a rationale for keeping the presidential primary in February 2012 (and in future cycles). It was argued then that changing the date of the presidential primary from February would be difficult because it was a date on which other (school) elections were held. There was, then, a potential financial burden associated with moving the Michigan presidential primary away from what was (and would be in 2016) a non-compliant position on the calendar. Eliminating the February option -- for those other elections -- would be detrimental to any attempt at using the cost-savings argument again. With no other elections, the presidential primary would be a stand-alone contest, offering no savings to the state.

In reality, then, the bill would do little to alter the date of the presidential nomination contest. It would remove the February date that is often used for school elections, but without also changing the code that refers to the February presidential primary. This is the sort of loophole that is closed at the committee stage of a bill's consideration. Of course, HB 5584 has been bottled up in committee since it was introduced. It may ultimately die there, but it could also prove to be a vehicle for a presidential primary change during the post-election session of the legislature during December.

...or those in Lansing may wait until the new legislature is sworn in and introduce a bill specific to the presidential primary date then.

1 This is functionally true. State parties have the final say on the date of a primary, but rarely opt out of the state-funded option. That has the effect of passing the date decision off to the state government.  State parties do not often find it in their interest to hold a party-funded primary (or caucuses) if a state-funded option is available. It happens (see Idaho Democrats), but only occasionally.

2 The Michigan legislature has a year-round session. July/August and October/November are slow times, but the legislature has regular meetings during September and then again in December.

Recent Posts:
Michigan Republicans Green Light March15, but...

Arizona Should Replace Iowa at the Front of the Presidential Primary Queue?

Michigan Republicans Take First Step Toward 2016 Presidential Primary Date Change

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Anonymous said...

If Michigan moves it's primary then does that mean that NH would need to schedule their primary in the first Tuesday in February to meet the 30 day window they have before Mar 1?

Josh Putnam said...

Michigan is not currently the biggest threat to the carve-out states (at least in terms of that "one month before the next earliest contest" provision in the new RNC rules). North Carolina is, at this point, more disruptive. The timing of the presidential primary in the Tarheel state is tethered to the contest in South Carolina (the Tuesday after the South Carolina primary).

The one month before the next earliest contest, then, depends on where South Carolina schedules its primary on the calendar and thus where the North Carolina primary would be under its state law.

Unless the North Carolina law changes first, all eyes will remain on South Carolina and not Michigan. Well, Colorado, Minnesota and Utah all have triggers for first Tuesday in February contest dates that could force the carve-outs into January.