Tuesday, May 15, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] Washington, DC Eases Back a Week on the Calendar

This post is part of a series examining efforts -- both attempted and successful -- to move presidential primary election dates for 2020 during the now-adjourning 2017-2018 state legislative sessions in capitols across the country. While shifts tend to be rare in sessions immediately following a presidential election, introduced legislation is more common albeit unsuccessful more often than not.

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During the spring of 2017, legislation was introduced in the Washington, DC Council to shift the date on which future primary elections in the district would be held. The impetus behind Councilmember Charles Allen's (D-Ward 6) B22-0197 was multifaceted.

Primarily, shifting local primaries out of September (to where the elections had been returned in 2014) was intended to ease pressure on district compliance with the federal MOVE act. The timeline of the certification for September primary winners threatened to overlap with the 45 day window required by the federal law to distribute general election ballots to military and other officials registered in a jurisdiction but abroad during an election year.

But motivated by cost-savings, Allen also sought to consolidate those local elections with the the presidential election. And the legislation threaded another needle by scheduling the concurrent primaries a week later than the 2016 presidential primary -- the third Tuesday in June rather than the second Tuesday in June. That maneuver helped the primary avoid conflicting with school calendars. Schools are where most of the elections are conducted and will be out for the year by that point in June. Additionally, the shift guarantees that the opening of the early voting window before the primary will not push into the Memorial Day weekend.

It all works out perfectly.

Perfectly except for the fact that in two years, that third Tuesday in June date for the 2020 presidential primary will be non-compliant with national party rules. The window in which states can hold primaries and caucuses closes on the second Saturday in June in the Republican process (Rule 16(c)(1)) and on the second Tuesday in June on the Democratic side (the would-be Rule 12.A.1; Rule 11.A.1 in 2016).

District Republicans had to shift to a party-run (and funded) caucus in March 2016 while Democrats in the district occupied the last date available in the 2016 Democratic National Committee process.

This issue was raised in the public testimony during the committee hearing for B22-0197. While the Lars Hydle from the DC Republican Party voiced party support for the 2018 primary move, he urged the committee to consult with the parties on the 2020 primary.

That is something both DC parties will prefer if they want to avoid national party penalties, the need to apply for waivers, or having to provide for an alternate and earlier (likely party-funded) contest in the 2020 presidential nomination process.

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The DC date change has been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.

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