Thursday, March 26, 2015

Amended Oklahoma Presidential Primary Bill Stymied in Committee

The Oklahoma state House Committee on Elections and Ethics convened on Wednesday, March 25 to  consider several state Senate-passed bills. Among them was SB 233, the legislation proposing the Oklahoma presidential preference primary be shifted back three weeks on the primary calendar. The bill was originally requested by the Oklahoma Republican Party with the intention of it returning to a more winner-take-all method of delegate allocation (after one cycle of dabbling with a more proportional method required by Republican National Committee rules).1

Due to conflicts raised by elections administrators in the state, an amendment was offered in the committee to push the date of the primary back two additional weeks in order to have it coincide with an election date called for in state law. The state provides for an opportunity to hold various elections on the first Tuesday in March and the first Tuesday in April. Adding a third election in that window is a perceived burden on those elections officials.

That amendment -- to move the Oklahoma primary to the first Tuesday in April -- was unanimously accepted by the Elections and Ethics Committee.

However, the move back -- in general, not just the further push back into April -- raised some concerns. After passing the state Senate with only a handful of dissenting votes, SB 233 faced some backlash from not only House committee members but in public testimony as well. That back and forth between the House author of the bill, Rep. Gary Banz (R-101st, Midwest City), and members of the committee was instructive in highlighting the trade-offs involved in the potential move.

  1. ...staying in an earlier March position with potentially more candidate/media attention but at the price of having to proportionally allocate delegates, or...
  2. ...shifting back to a later (relative to the March position) April date that satisfies election administrators in the state and allows the Oklahoma Republican Party to allocate convention delegates on a winner-take-all basis, but at a cost of the primary falling after the point on the calendar at which someone has clinched the nomination (or is likely too far ahead to be caught in the remaining contests).
That really does neatly encapsulate the competing interests involved in these decisions: state parties, state governments, national parties (rules) and the voters themselves.

As for the Wednesday committee hearing, the bill was laid over for future consideration not so much because there was an impasse on SB 233, but because the full committee was not present and the no one from the Oklahoma Republican Party was on hand to (directly) offer their reasoning for the later primary date.

The clock is ticking on this. Oklahoma House committees have to have voted up or down on Senate-passed legislation by April 10. The provides the Elections and Ethics Committee only a couple of additional opportunities to tie up any loose ends with SB 233. If they cannot, Oklahoma will stay on March 1 and Republicans would be forced to proportionally allocate their national convention delegation to the various candidates.

For now, however, this one is on pause.

Hat tip to Randy Krehbiel at the Tulsa World whose story alerted FHQ to yesterday's hearing.

1 The modifiers are important on the types of allocation in this instance. Oklahoma Republicans have had a winner-take-all by congressional method of delegate allocation in the past, not a true winner-take-all distribution. In addition, the proportional method the party utilized in 2012 was conditionally winner-take-all by congressional district, but functionally proportional by congressional district. If no candidate received a majority of the vote either statewide or in the Sooner state's five congressional districts, then the allocation was proportional within those units (statewide and congressional district). That is not a truly proportional plan in the conventional sense.

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David Van Risseghem said...

I testified yesterday to that committee. Rep. Banz lacks a majority and the current OKGOP Chairman did not show up to address the committee. It will likely be rejected next Wednesday at the next committee hearing.

Josh Putnam said...

I heard. Thanks for plugging the site!

And thanks for your assessment of the bill's current position with the committee. The prognosis did not seem all that good for committee passage given the comments in the hearing. I will be interested to see if proponents are able to get a representative from OKGOP to testify next week.

David Van Risseghem said...

Your blog is a great teaching tool.
I added your headline feed to our Oklahoma news site.
We hope to send traffic over to you!