Tuesday, January 20, 2015

State Legislatures Move Most Presidential Primaries. ...But They Have to Change State Law First

Don Gonyea had a good background piece on the possibility/formation of an SEC primary this morning on NPR's Morning Edition.

However, Mr. Gonyea lost FHQ when he began to place odds on which southern states would join the potential southern regional presidential primary on March 1 of next year. Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi were deemed "sure things" while it was mentioned that the "lineup could include" Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Florida. This not correct.

It was a small section in an otherwise solid story, but it is misleading about how the presidential primary calendar forms from cycle to cycle. Some states are constant date-tweakers. New Hampshire, for instance, has to be able to change the date of the presidential primary there to stay at the front of the queue every presidential election year. They move dates every cycle. But the majority of states are not like New Hampshire: They stay in the same position if not every cycle, then for multiple cycles. Indiana has held its presidential primary on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of May for the entire post-reform era (1972-2012), for example.

Part of the reason why is that the motivation is not always present in a given state to move the date on which a presidential primary is held. The benefits are not readily apparent. And even when the benefits of added attention and candidate spending are somewhat clear, the decision still has to filter through two chambers of a state legislature and garner a governor's signature. That introduces the layer of state-level partisanship and possible partisan gridlock (which FHQ discussed in some detail recently).

But here's the thing: When a state legislature cannot pass legislation moving the date of the presidential primary or has not passed legislation the default position of such a contest is the position described in state law. That very definitely affects the odds of a state joining a proposed regional primary or in moving a primary to an earlier date as has been the fashion for much of the post-McGovern-Fraser reform era.

State laws in Tennessee, Texas and maybe Florida currently indicate that those states are "sure things" for March 1. There is nothing fluid about that. There are no discussions in any of those states about changing the state laws concerning the dates of presidential primaries.1

Arkansas may join the SEC primary, but it could be tough. In any event, the calculus is different in the Natural state than it is in any of the other states on the SEC primary list.

There is unified Republican control of the state governments in both Alabama and Mississippi and appears to be support for the idea of bumping the primaries up a week in each state. Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann indicated to his Georgia counterpart, Brian Kemp (who is behind the SEC primary concept), that everyone in the Magnolia state is "on board".

Georgia is unique in that the legislature does not factor into the presidential primary date-setting decision. Like New Hampshire, the secretary of state sets the date of the primary in the Peach state. That streamlines the decision-making process and mean that Georgia is only a formal declaration away from a March 1 primary date next year.

But again, if we're trying to place odds on which states will be involved in this southern regional primary, then look to the state laws first. Tennessee and Texas are the sure things. State laws in each say so. There's still work to be done -- and potential roadblocks -- in the other states (though there does not seem to be much resistance to moving up in most of those states).

Here are some related posts on the intricacies of the formation of the SEC primary:
Why is Florida on March 1 and Not March 15?

Will a Calendar Bump Up Mean More Candidate Visits in SEC Primary States?

Why Getting Arkansas into an SEC Primary is More Difficult

But Southern States Will Have to Be Proportional

Louisiana not inclined to join 'SEC' presidential primary day in 2016

A Couple of Reasons the 2016 Texas Presidential Primary Isn't Going Anywhere

1 There may be a discussion in Florida at some point about clarifying the law, but the state legislature does not convene in the Sunshine state until March.

Recent Posts:
Oklahoma Bill Would Move Presidential Primary Back Three Weeks

Oregon Bill Would Split Presidential, Other Primaries

Has the RNC Set a Later Starting Date for the First Primaries and Caucuses?

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