Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Path to Nevada Presidential Primary May Be Steep in Assembly

The Nevada Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections convened on Tuesday, May 19. On its agenda was the recently-passed bill to move a consolidated primary -- including a new presidential primary -- to the last Tuesday in February.

This is now the sixth time this session that a committee on either side of the Nevada capitol has heard testimony on the issue of trading in caucuses in the Silver state and replacing them with a presidential primary election. However, it is the first time that the switch has been discussed in the Assembly since it became clear that the Republican National Committee is pushing for a primary in the state for 2016. The RNC got a party line passage vote in the Nevada Senate a week ago that sent the matter over to the Assembly side.

That RNC involvement is really the only thing that has changed along with changes to the bills in both chambers the longer this legislative session has progressed. Well, the RNC has brought some more coverage, but the talking points have remained the same in these committee hearings and work sessions. And the people speaking for and against the primary and its timing have basically been the same core of folks through the previous five committee meetings.

The big story at this point is that minds really have not changed. Elections administrators, given the extra practice through repeated committee hearings, have refined their arguments but still balk at the possibility of a February primary (for all offices). Democrats are still against the move, but are satisfied enough with the out the bill gives them (to keep conducting caucuses) that they are not as concerned about upsetting the Democratic National Committee and losing the state's protected status at the beginning of the primary calendar. [There is little the state party can do on that anyway.] And the minor party representatives are still crying foul.

If none of that has changed, then why have proponents of the primary switch not adapted to counter those complaints? Arguing that turnout will be higher in a primary is a potentially great point, but repeatedly only pulling that out of the bag of tricks is not convincing enough to some on the LegOps committee in the Assembly. For instance, proponents could counter elections administrators complaints that it is tough train volunteers for the primary over the holidays or the arguments from some Democrats on the committee against campaigning over the holidays with an example. How did Illinois manage all of this with a consolidated primary on the first Tuesday in February 2008? Maybe that is a bad example. Illinois legislators liked that enough that they reverted to a mid-March primary for 2012.

But there are others. Texas will hold a consolidated primary on March 1, 2016. There may be complaints from elections officials in the Lone Star state, but FHQ has not heard them. They did not like the idea of moving the Texas primary to January, but they did not mind the March 1 date; only a week after the proposed primary date in Nevada. What is Texas doing to confront these same issues? Now, sure, there is a great deal of variation in election administration across states, but this might be something for proponents of the Nevada primary -- or perhaps the RNC -- to look into.

Time is running short. The regular legislative session is slated to end in Nevada on June 1 and there are Republicans on the LegOps committee who are not on board with the change. Tick, tick, tick...

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