Wednesday, September 4, 2019

California Republicans Face Decision on 2020 Delegate Selection

Heading into their state convention this weekend, California Republicans are staring down an October 1 deadline under RNC rules to finalize delegate selection plans for the 2020 cycle. And due to the 2017 move of the presidential primary from June to March for 2020, a change in the way delegates are allocated is necessary.

For years, California Republicans have used a winner-take-most allocation system in the presidential nomination process, doling out (at-large) delegates to the plurality winner statewide and to the plurality winner in each of the Golden state's congressional districts. But unlike past cycles when California held an early (February or March) primary, the contest now falls in the proportionality window the Republican National Committee adopted for the 2012 cycle, tweaked ahead of 2016 and kept for 2020.

That overlap -- a primary in the proportionality window and a winner-take-most allocation scheme -- means California Republicans have to make some changes or face sanction from the RNC (50 percent delegate reduction). And this coming weekend's state convention is one of the last opportunities for the party to make those changes before the RNC deadline at the end of the month.

California Republicans, then, are one of the few state parties that will have a less incumbent-beneficial plan in 2020 as compared to 2016. A handful of states have made subtle maneuvers in 2019 to award more delegates to majority winners (which incumbent presidents typically are) in primaries and caucuses. Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Ohio have all either altered their delegate selection rules from 2016 or moved primaries or caucuses to retain or create more incumbent-friendly allocation rules (read: winner-take-all).

So what will California Republicans do?

There is no draft of what the California Republican Party Rules Committee will tackle during their Saturday evening meeting, but the path of least resistance -- the one that alters the status quo the least -- is a proportional allocation system set up with either or both of a maximum 20 percent qualifying threshold on statewide and district results and/or a 50 percent winner-take-all trigger applied to both statewide and district results. That would likely retain the winner-take-most elements in a contest with an intra-party popular incumbent president seeking renomination.

Time, however, will tell that tale. But a change does have to occur for California Republicans to remain in compliance with RNC rules.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Maine Ranked Choice Voting Presidential Primary Bill Revived in Special Session

The Maine legislature convened a brief special session on Monday, August 26 and raised the ranked choice voting presidential primary bill that had carried over from the earlier regular session.

The bill -- LD 1083 -- had become a casualty of the final day of the legislature in June, failing to get one final enacting vote passed in the state Senate. That vote came on Monday and passed along party lines with just one majority party Democrat voting with dissenting Republicans.

Final enacting vote behind it, the bill now moves to Governor Janet Mills (D) for her consideration. She previously in the summer signed legislation into law reestablishing a presidential primary in the Pine Tree state and scheduling it for Super Tuesday.

Just last week, the Democratic Party Rules and Bylaws Committee raised the topic of ranked choice voting in presidential primaries during the DNC summer meeting in San Francisco. And while Maine was cited as a potential ranked choice voting state in the process, the RBC punted on issuing any guidance until any changes were final in state law and state party delegate selection plans had been revised and resubmitted.

There are some questions as to how the process would work in Maine in a presidential nomination context. Unlike in New Hampshire, where ranked choice voting in presidential primaries legislation failed earlier this year, the Maine legislation is less forthcoming about the mechanics of the process. Whereas the proposed New Hampshire system would have shifted the reallocation line to a 15 percent threshold (as opposed to reallocating until one winner is determined), the Maine system does not specifically lay out any instructions over than it should follow the same procedure as any other ranked choice system. That would mean narrowing the list down to one winner.

However, what the bill does do is leave up to the discretion of the state parties the process of delegate allocation and selection. And the standard Democratic threshold of 15 percent remains the mandate from the national party. The Maine Democratic Party delegate selection plan already received a conditional compliance grade from the RBC during its July 30 meeting. Should the ranked choice voting bill be signed into law, though, the plan would have to be revised.

Tip of the cap to @khfan93 for the heads up about the Press-Herald story on the bill's passage cited above.

1/18/19: Maine Lost its Presidential Primary

2/1/19: Maine Decision to Re-Establish a Presidential Primary Option for 2020 Hinges on Money

2/9/19: Maine Committee Hearing Highlights Familiar Divisions in Caucus to Primary Shifts

3/16/19: Alternative Bill Would Reestablish a Presidential Primary in Maine but with Ranked Choice Voting

3/22/19: Maine Committee Hearing Finds Support for and Roadblocks to a Ranked Choice Presidential Primary

3/30/19: Maine Democrats Signal Caucuses in Draft Delegate Selection Plan, but...

4/23/19: New Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill Introduced in Maine

5/10/19: Maine Committee Working Session Offers Little Clarity on 2020 Presidential Primary

6/3/19: Maine Senate Advances Super Tuesday Primary Bill

6/4/19: On to the Governor: Maine House Passes Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill

6/19/19: Fate of a Reestablished Presidential Primary in Maine Not Clear Entering Final Legislative Day

6/20/19: Governor Mills' Signature Sets Maine Presidential Primary for Super Tuesday

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Kentucky Republicans Change Presidential Caucus Process

It is not clear yet whether Kentucky Republicans will hold caucuses again in 2020 or revert to the May presidential primary the party has traditionally used for allocating national convention delegates.  FHQ's repeated attempts to contact the party were either ignored or turned away.

In any event, there are some tea leaves to read that point in the direction of the Republican Party of Kentucky (RPK) using the caucus/convention format again in 2020. For starters, the party adopted rules changes to the caucus section of the RPK's rules added in 2015. Back at the June 15 meeting of the RPK state central committee the rules were changed for 2020. The party not only changed the date of the contest, but altered the method of delegate allocation as well. And the former made the latter possible. First, the date of the caucuses was moved back on the calendar from the first Saturday in March. In 2020, if Republicans in the Bluegrass state hold caucuses, the event will fall on the third Saturday in March.

That new position on the calendar allowed the party to then trade out the proportional allocation method used in 2016 for a winner-take-all method in the current cycle. Under Republican National Committee rules, no contest before March 15 can allocated delegates in a winner-take-all fashion without having a winner-take-all threshold (no less than 50 percent of the vote) in place. RPK skipped that, opting for a later date -- March 21 -- and a true winner-take-all plan with no trigger.

Those would be inconsequential rules changes if the RPK ultimately decided to use the May state-run presidential primary for allocating delegates instead. Why go to the trouble? That does not confirm that Republicans in Kentucky will use the caucuses again, but it certainly points in that direction.

It should additionally be noted that in 2015 when the party added the caucuses language to the party rules, that August state central committee meeting was the setting in which the decision to use the caucuses for delegate allocation in 2016 was made as well. Now, whether that same protocol was utilized at the June 2019 meeting is unclear. But if the pattern in 2015 was the same in 2019, then the party will be using a winner-take-all caucus on March 21 of next year.

Kentucky, then, potentially fits the pattern of state parties making rules changes that might benefit the president's renomination outlook.

FHQ will add the new date of the Kentucky Republican caucuses to the 2020 presidential primary calendar, but with an asterisk until the move is confirmed with the party.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

An Early and Tentative Look at Democratic Bonus Delegates for 2020

Now that the 2020 Democratic presidential primary calendar is all but complete, one can begin to assess which states are definitively eligible for bonus delegates. Under the rules of the Democratic nomination process, there are two ways in which a state party can be awarded delegates in addition to those apportioned it by the DNC formula. One is based on timing and the other on the clustering of contiguous primaries and/or caucuses.

Timing bonus
The timing bonus stems from the manner in which the Democratic National Committee partitions the primary calendar. Stage I encompasses the February carve-out contests plus those scheduled in the month of March. None of the states that fall into this earliest calendar category are eligible for any additional delegates.

However, the next two (of three) stages are. Any contest scheduled during the month of April falls into Stage II and is awarded an extra 10 percent bonus. That 10 percent is calculated using the base delegation, the output of the DNC apportionment formula before the 15 percent "add-on" delegates or PLEOs (party leader and elected officials) are tacked on to the pledged delegate total.1 That is really just a longer way of saying that any bonus is calculated as a percentage of a state's district and at-large delegates combined.

Finally, the last section of the calendar -- Stage III -- includes any contest that falls in either May or the earliest part of June. Those state parties see a 20 percent bonus added to their base delegations.

Clustering bonus
The other bonus added in 2010 for the 2012 cycle gives incentive to states that form regional or subregional primaries later in the calendar. Any state with a contest clustered with contests in at least two other neighboring states are eligible for a 15 percent bonus added to their base delegations. But only states with regional or subregional clusters on or later than the fourth Tuesday in March can be awarded that bonus. There is, then, a timing element to this bonus as well. And what that ultimately means is that unless a cluster wedges into a spot in the last week or so of March, then all other clustering states are eligible for more than one bonus. An April cluster would mean a 15 percent bump plus a 10 percent timing increase. And any cluster in May or later would qualify for a 20 percent timing bonus plus the 15 percent clustering increase that totals to a 35 percent increase to a state's base delegation.

Early and Tentative 2020 bonus delegates
Again, with the 2020 primary calendar near completion, one can map out how many bonus delegates there will be and in which states that will end up. Yes, the dates of the primaries in New York and Washington, DC are unsettled at this time, but are very likely to end up on April 28 and June 2, respectively. If one assumes both end up on those dates then each would be among the 24 states and territories in the 2020 cycle to qualify for bonus delegates. That total is down from 28 bonus-qualifying states in 2016. Arizona2, California, Idaho, North Dakota, Puerto Rico and Utah all lost bonuses by moving up and/or opting into (earlier) primaries rather than (later) caucuses. And Louisiana and Kansas both gained bonuses by shifting their contests to later and bonus-eligible dates for 2020.

What appears below is a detailed table of how many delegates have been apportioned by the DNC to each of the 57 states and territories with contests. The pledged delegates, broken into their various categories, appear in Duke blue, the automatic delegates (superdelegates) are shaded in Carolina blue.   And a tentative tally of bonus delegates also appears (where applicable) in shades of green. The darker the shade of green, the greater the bonus calculated from and tacked onto the base delegation total.

Now, again, this is apt to change some based on any further but unforeseen changes to the calendar. However, given the current (likely) calendar, there would be 211 bonus delegates awarded across the 24 eligible states. Nearly a quarter of them are apportioned to New York alone, a beneficiary of not only a timing bonus should the primary in the Empire state wind up on April 28, but a clustering bonus as well. Pennsylvania also benefits from that double bonus. Together, Pennsylvania and New York represent nearly 40 percent of the total bonus delegates apportioned. In fact, the entire six state Acela primary cluster on April 28 accounts for over half of all of the likely bonus delegates, all benefiting from a double bonus (25 percent in total).

Practically speaking, the addition of any bonus delegates adds to the total number of pledged delegates and total delegates. And that, in turn, means that the number of delegates needed for any candidate to win the nomination increases as well. The pledged total would rise to 3979 delegates, meaning that a candidate would need 1990 pledged delegates to win the nomination on a first ballot vote conducted without superdelegates.

In the event that the nomination process goes beyond the first ballot, a candidate would need a higher total number of delegates, including the superdelegates, to win the nomination. The overall total, including bonus delegates, would increase to 4745 delegates.3 As a result the magic number to clinch the Democratic nomination on a second or subsequent ballot would increase to 2373 delegates. A candidate can also enter the convention with that number of or more delegates and win the nomination on a first ballot vote that includes superdelegates.

How might these bonus delegate totals change in the coming months?
Unless the calendar undergoes a late and unforeseen change, then the above is likely what the final bonus delegate and pledged delegate totals will look like. Should the New York bill moving the primary there to April not be signed into law, for example, then New York Democrats would lose their 49 bonus delegates and the overall bonus delegate total would decrease.4 That would alter not only the bonus total but the overall total.

Barring those sorts of late cycle moves, however, the bonus delegate total is as close to locked at it can be. By extension, that means that the pledged total is unlikely to change as well, and thus the 1990 delegate magic number is fairly close to accurate.

Where things remain in flux is within the superdelegate total. The secretary of the DNC does not have to confirm that total (for each state) to state parties until March 6, 2020. Most of likely changes on this front will take place during the fall 2019 gubernatorial elections and any special elections to Congress, and then, the changes are only likely to be pretty minimal.

[MORE: How the magic number may be more fluid in 2020 than it has in past years.]

How are bonus delegates apportioned to eligible states?
Here it may be useful to refer back to the table above. At the bottom is a tab called "Bonus Distribution". If one clicks on that, then one can see where the bonus delegates are distributed in a state's total. Alaska, for example, would gain one bonus delegate, and that extra delegate ends up filtering into the district delegate total.


Here, things get a bit more complicated. First, a state's base delegation is made up of district and at-large delegates. By rule, 75 percent of that base delegation should be district delegates with the remaining 25 percent reserved for at-large delegates.

Adding bonus delegates to the base delegation total potentially alters that balance. Bonus delegates cannot all, then, be added to the at-large delegate pool (the allocation of which is determined by statewide results). The method the DNC uses is not to lump at-large, district and bonus delegates into a pool and recalculate a new 75/25 district-to-at-large balance. Rather, the DNC leaves the originally calculated at-large and district pools alone and calculates a 75/25 split of any bonus delegates for which a state may be eligible. The 75 percent portion is then added to the existing district delegate total and the remaining part to the at-large total.

The only places where this process breaks down to some degree are, first, when the resulting apportionment of bonus delegates to each of the two pools ends with a remainder of .5. Both sides of the calculation cannot round up, otherwise an additional delegate is added to a state's total. In those cases, the district bonus segment is rounded up and the at-large bonus segment rounds down.

Small delegations and bonuses are also potentially problematic. In the case of delegations so small as to only warrant one bonus delegate, that delegate would always mathematically end up in the district total. However, in cases like Alaska and Wyoming -- where just one bonus delegate is apportioned -- that one bonus delegate filters into the at-large pool.

The resulting bonus delegate distribution for 2020 is weighted slightly more toward the at-large side. 26.5 percent of the bonus delegates are collectively apportioned to at-large pool, more than the 25 percent goal. Of course, that is based on the aggregated totals (155 district bonus delegates and 56 at-large bonus delegates). The distribution relative to the balance called for in the rules differs from state to state and is also closer to 75/25 when considering the overall pools of district and at-large delegates (with bonus delegates added).

In the end, all this really means is that a marginal number of delegates winds up in that overall at-large pool that is allocated based on statewide results.

1 PLEOs are distinct from superdelegates. Before 2012, both were in the same unplugged category. But upon the recommendation of the Democratic Change Commission to reduce the number of superdelegates, the DNC adopted rules changes in 2010 for the 2012 cycle. That change shifted those add-on/PLEO delegates from unpledged into the pledged category.

2 There was no purposeful move of the Arizona primary for the 2020 cycle. However, the language describing where the primary falls on the calendar, while advantageous in 2016, is not for 2020. The primary is scheduled for the Tuesday immediately after March 15. In 2016, that date was the fourth Tuesday in March and qualified Arizona Democrats for a clustering bonus (along with Idaho and Utah). That Tuesday in 2020 is on March 17, too early to be eligible for a clustering bonus (even if Arizona had not lost its 2016 partners for 2020).

3 The DNC total for superdelegates does not seemingly include the Democratic governor of the Virgin Islands. That addition is reflected in the superdelegate and overall totals in the table above.

4 That would also mean that New York would have a February primary and, by rule, lose half their delegates. Typically, a penalty like that is meted out during primary season but restored for the convention. But it is an open question as to whether the DNC through the Rules and Bylaws Committee would restore any penalized delegates in a scenario where there is no presumptive nominee heading into the convention. All state-level delegate selection processes are to be completed no later than June 20, 2020. After that point, the secretary of the DNC would confirm the total number of delegates of all of the candidates, determining the likely parameters of the first ballot vote: with or without superdelegates. But things would have to be pretty close for a penalized total of 112 delegates from New York to make the difference.

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Puerto Rico Democratic Primary Shifts to March 29

Among his last acts before officially resigning his post, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló signed into law legislation -- S 1323 -- moving the Democratic primary in the territory up ten weeks from the first Sunday in June to the last Sunday in March.

Rosselló said in a press release:
“This legislative measure provides the opportunity to put Puerto Rico on the radar of potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party. The candidates will not only pay attention to Puerto Rico but will have to clearly stipulate their positions regarding the issues that affect the island. In changing the date to the month of March, we can engage candidates directly on the political and economic inequality that Puerto Rico goes through."
While the change may increase the odds that more attention is paid to the Puerto Rico primary (and the issues important to island residents), that is not a guarantee on a date that late in March, after Super Tuesday and after more than two-thirds of the Democratic delegates will have been allocated. And any attention gained comes at a cost of the nine bonus delegates the party would have been eligible for in the June position, bonus delegates the party has had over the last several cycles.

Notes on that NBC report on the primary date change linked above:
1) It states that Puerto Rico joins California and Texas on Super Tuesday. It does not. The Puerto Rico Democratic primary will fall nearly a month later on the calendar.

2) Let's talk briefly about the date of the Republican presidential primary in Puerto Rico for 2020. The NBC article suggests that the primary for Republicans on the island will occur on March 8. It may. But that is not exactly what the Compulsory Presidential Primary Act that S 1323 just altered for the Democratic Party indicates. It explicitly schedules the Republican presidential primary for the last Sunday in February unless that date conflicts with the New Hampshire primary. The last Sunday in February in 2020 is February 23, a date nearly two weeks after the New Hampshire primary. There is no conflict, not with New Hampshire anyway.

Now, there is a conflict between that last Sunday in February date and Republican National Committee rules prohibiting February primaries and caucuses other than in the four carve-out states. But that particular conflict (and any resulting contingency) is not laid out in the Puerto Rico statute and thus the primary would not be shifted back to the first Sunday in March (which technically would be March 1 and still non-compliant).

The catch in this whole discussion is that it is moot. While there are instructions on when to schedule the Republican presidential primary in the aforementioned statute, the Republican Party in Puerto Rico ignores that in favor of another section of the election code and cited it in their Rule 16(f) filing with the RNC in 2015. That section -- Chapter 407, Section 4119 -- reads:
In the case of primaries for candidates who seek nomination in their political party for election to the office of President of the United States of America, the same may be held on any date after the first Tuesday of February of the General Election year, and up to June fifteenth (15th) of that same year, as determined by the local body of the party, as appropriate.
In other words, the statute gives the Republican Party in the territory wide latitude in setting the date of the primary, wide enough to include all of February and the first few days of March that are not compliant under the national party rules. But anything from the first Tuesday in March through June 15 is available to Puerto Rico Republicans. The party may yet settle on March 8 as the article indicates. Alternatively, Republicans on the island could opt to hold their contest on March 29, aligned with the Democratic contest in an effort to cut down on the expenditures for two primary elections. But the point is that it is an open question at this time as to when the Puerto Rico Republican presidential primary will fall in 2020. An answer to that question will become clearer as the October 1 deadline for state parties to submit their delegate selection plans to the RNC.

3) Finally, the California primary was not moved in December of 2018 as mentioned in the NBC piece. The bill moving the primary in the Golden state from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March was signed into law in September 2017, well before the end of 2018.

The Puerto Rico Democratic Party primary date change has been added to the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Nevada Republicans to Consider Resolution to Skip 2020 Caucuses for Allocating Delegates

At the upcoming September 7 meeting of the Nevada Republican Party state central committee, the party will consider a series of resolutions to forgo a presidential preference vote at precinct caucuses next February. In their place would be what the NRP is calling an Alternative Presidential Preference Poll, a vote not of rank and file Nevada Republicans statewide, but of the membership of the Nevada Republican Party state central committee.

Here is how it would work:
1) The Executive Committee, the smaller subset of the central committee, would determine "that a statewide presidential poll is unnecessary to determine the will of the majority of registered Nevada Republican voters," opting instead for the aforementioned Alternative Poll of the full central committee.  
2) This maneuver can only be used in cycles in which there is an incumbent Republican president.  
3) That incumbent president would automatically be placed in nomination as a candidate in the Alternative Poll.  
4) Other candidates can additionally file a nomination form with the party to be placed in nomination in the Alternative Poll as well. Those challenging candidates must include on that form the signatures of 20 members of the central committee.  
5) The members of the central committee then vote for that candidate (/those candidates) under rules established by the Executive Committee. 
While other candidates technically have access to the process, functionally someone like Bill Weld or Mark Sanford (or whomever) faces a steep climb in convincing 20 central committee members to give them that chance. That, in turn, means that President Trump is not only very likely to be the only candidate involved in that Alternative Poll, but also stands to have all of the Nevada delegation bound to him at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte.

Now, this may raise a few rules-related questions for some.
1) Can Nevada Republicans actually strip out the presidential preference vote from their precinct caucuses and still remain compliant under Republican National Committee rules.
Yes. In fact, Kansas Republicans are considering a similar shift in their delegate selection process. Under Rule 16(d)(1) of the 2016 Rules of the Republican Party -- the rules adopted by the 2016 convention to guide the 2020 process -- state parties have the discretion to select, elect and/or allocate delegates via state central committee action. 
2) But this sounds like a move by the party to allocate all of its delegates to the president, and winner-take-all allocation is prohibited before March 15, right?
This one involves a bit of a convoluted response. First of all, other than South Carolina, whose plan includes a winner-take-all by congressional district (winner-take-most) allocation scheme, no party with a contest prior to March 15 can allocate delegates in a winner-take-all fashion without also included some sort of qualifying threshold and/or winner-take-all threshold. The former can be set as high as 20 percent and the latter as low as 50 percent. There is nothing in any of these resolutions to alter the proportional manner in which Nevada Republicans allocate delegates. In fact, that proportional method is cited in the Alternative Poll's establishing resolution. 
But if Trump is the only candidate considered in the Alternative Poll, then he is the only candidate who can win a proportional share of the Nevada delegates.1 That would make for a winner-take-all allocation. That is true, but highlights the importance of 1) the Executive Committee's estimation that the statewide preference vote at the precinct caucuses is not necessary, and 2) the fact that other candidates technically have access to the Alternative Poll and thus a proportional share of any delegates for which such a candidate would qualify. The result is that while the end result is likely a winner-take-all allocation, there are ways for others to win delegates. The bar may be set high, but there is a bar. 
And according to the Associated Press:
The Nevada Republican Party’s proposes [sic] rule change “isn’t about any kind of conspiracy theory about protecting the president,” said Nevada GOP spokesman Keith Schipper. 
“He’s going to be the nominee,” Schipper said. “This is about protecting resources to make sure that the president wins in Nevada and that Republicans up and down the ballot win in 2020.”
This is akin to the resources arguments Kansas Republicans have made about skipping their caucuses as well, but in the Nevada Republican case, the precinct caucuses would still occur on February 25. There just would not be a preference vote to bind delegates to the candidates. Instead, the caucuses/convention process would be utilized as the means through which delegates would be selected. The delegation may have already been allocated to Trump by then, even as early as the September 7 Nevada Republican state central committee meeting.

As a postscript, it is noteworthy how differently the Republican parties in each of the four carve-out states have approached 2020. Iowa Republicans have remained steadfast that they will have a preference vote tethered to the February caucuses in the Hawkeye state. Republicans in New Hampshire considered but opted against bringing a resolution ending a party neutrality rule and endorsing as a party the president for renomination ahead of the primary in the Granite state. Meanwhile, South Carolina Republicans have also considered scaling down their operations for 2020, potentially shifting from a primary to a caucus. None of this state party maneuvering is confined to just the carve-out states, but they are the most consequential at the beginning of the process. Other state Republican parties across the country will finalize decisions on their 2020 delegate selection processes as the October 1 RNC deadline to finalize plans approaches. It will not just be Nevada Republicans who are active on this front in September.

1 And although it is not spelled out in the resolution, it is assumed that delegates could only be allocated as uncommitted if 20 members of the central committee filed that paperwork with the party secretary that other candidates would have to file.

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Thursday, August 1, 2019

Guam Democratic Delegate Selection Plan Sets Territorial Caucuses for May 2

An August 1 press release from the Democratic Party of Guam announced the party's delegate selection plan for the 2020 presidential nomination cycle.

The document details Guam Democrats plans for May 2 caucuses (coinciding with the party-run primary in Kansas). Timing the contest at that point on the calendar -- the same first Saturday in May date the party used in 2016 -- will qualify the Guam Democratic delegation to the Democratic National Convention for a stage III timing bonus that will increase the delegation by one at-large delegate from six base delegates to a total of seven.

Those seven delegates will be allocated under DNC rules to the candidates who receive 15 percent or more of the vote in the May 2 caucuses.

Rounding out the Guam Democratic delegation are an additional six automatic delegates (superdelegates): the four DNC members from the territory (party chair, party vice chair, national committeeman and national committeewoman), the Guam Democratic delegate to Congress and the Democratic Guam governor.

The Guam Democratic Party caucuses have been added to the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Northern Mariana Island Democrats Will Caucus on March 14

While it has seemingly had no public comment period online -- at least one that FHQ has been able to track down -- the delegate selection plan for the Democratic Party in the Northern Mariana Islands has made its way to the Democratic National Committee. This is something that has changed in the last two weeks because when FHQ spoke with folks  on staff with the Rules and Bylaws Committee then, the national party had yet to receive a submission.

In any event, the plan is in, was reviewed and approved by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee on July 30, and calls for a March 14 caucus. That will be the Saturday following contests in Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington. That second Saturday in March date was the same one the territorial party used in 2016. Although the news of the caucus is new, the date is not. This is only confirmation of that maintenance of the status quo on the calendar.

This leaves only Guam as the remaining Democratic contest with no confirmed date for the 2020 cycle. New York, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC all are in the midst of potential date changes but have preexisting times for their primaries on the books.

The Northern Mariana Island Democratic Party caucuses have been added to the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Clock is Ticking on Contested Convention Chatter

The 2020 Democratic presidential nomination process is far enough into the invisible primary now that contested convention stories are popping up at a pretty brisk pace. FHQ is not quite to the point of saying another day, another contested convention story, but we may not be that far off either.

But rather than take the latest one from Cameron Joseph over at Vice News and poke holes in it, I will take a different approach and ask a different question: How much longer should we the politically attentive public expect to deal with the quadrennial rite of contested convention speculation?

There are a variety of ways to look at this, but FHQ will take something of an indirect approach. Both events in primary season and media reactions to those events help to drive attention toward the possibility of a contested convention. So let's turn to the Google Trends data from the last three presidential election cycles, the three for which full data is available.1 Rather than squeeze the full time series into one figure FHQ will break it into cycles, covering the trendlines for "contested convention," "brokered convention," and "open convention" from January 1 in the year prior to the presidential election year to January 1 of the year after the presidential election has occurred.

One thing is obvious from the figures below right off the bat: The term brokered convention remains the most used term for an unresolved nomination race at the convention stage.

During the 2016 cycle, brokered conventions reached its search height during the first week in March, the week on which Super Tuesday fell during that cycle, and then trailed off thereafter. There was a surge in contested convention searches two weeks later during the mini-Super Tuesday that formed right as the proportionality window in the Republican nomination process closed, allowing state parties to allocate their delegates in a winner-take-all manner if they so chose. But again, that was the peak and it dropped off after that point. Certainly questions lingered as to whether either party's nomination race would remain unresolved for a prolonged period after Super Tuesday, but the searches petered out for the most part.

There is a fairly similar pattern that developed during 2012 as well. The primary calendar was a bit more elongated in 2012 relative to 2016. Florida again jumped into January and forced three-quarters of the carve-out states to follow suit. But that left a significant lull in activity through the bulk of February. But the peak in brokered convention searches falls in a window that includes Super Tuesday (the first Tuesday in March) and extends to and through the following week. That second Tuesday in March featured a couple of competitive southern contests in Alabama and Mississippi that seemed like openings for Santorum and/or Gingrich to challenge Romney, but those opportunities were largely missed (in the delegate count).

Finally, in 2008 a familiar pattern is again observed. Sure, Super Tuesday was a month earlier during that cycle compared to either 2012 or 2016, but it still represented the point of peak brokered convention searches.

That repeated pattern -- a Super Tuesday peak -- suggests a few things. First, this seems to have more to do with the calendar -- the collection of contests on Super Tuesday -- than say the number of delegates allocated by a certain point on the calendar. I say that because there was wide variation in the number of delegates allocated on or before Super Tuesday. It ranged from a high of 83 percent of the delegates allocated by the time Super Tuesday was over in 2008 in the Democratic process to a low of a little more than 25 percent once Super Tuesday was completed in the Democratic process of 2016.

Second, just because searches for brokered or contested or open conventions drop off after Super Tuesday, does not mean they (nor the stories and/or events that drive them) cease altogether. But the bulk of this is yet to come for 2020. The occasional contested convention story may come up as the Vice News story did yesterday, but they largely fall on deaf ears. Most just are not paying attention yet. There may be a mini surge of searches during particular junctures in the invisible primary, but those tend to pale in comparison to the peak of searches that seemingly tend to fall at or around Super Tuesday each cycle.

That finally appears to suggest that if 2020 follows the same pattern, the Democratic nominee may not yet be known, but that the process will be on the way to an answer by around Super Tuesday. And if a multi-way race persists to and through that point on the calendar, then we may not reach the height of 2020 brokered convention searches until later in the calendar.

But FHQ is not willing to make that bet just yet.

1 Google Trends stretches back into 2004, but not far enough to encompass the Democratic presidential primaries.

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Monday, July 22, 2019

Sequence Matters to Delegate Allocation and Winnowing

Another month has brought an updated glimpse of the state of play in the early states on the 2020 presidential primary calendar from CBSNews/YouGov Battleground Tracker. These monthly updates are like catnip to FHQ. They are fun and, broken down on the state level, give a bit of insight into how the delegate allocation rules in the Democratic Party presidential nomination process might work. It is instructive to scroll down to the New Hampshire results, for example, and see that Biden gets 27 percent support in the poll and that translates to three of the eight statewide (at-large and PLEO delegates) in the Granite state.

And while that aspect of the exercise is on some level helpful, the overall delegate allocation aggregation is less so. And look folks, those behind these monthly updates are up front about this being a snapshot. It is and that is just like the polling on which the delegate projections are based.

But in reality, the nomination process itself is not a snapshot. Invisible primary activity affects Iowa which affects New Hampshire which affects Nevada which affects South Carolina which affects Super Tuesday and so on. The process, then, is not a singular snapshot but a series of them interconnected with each other. By lumping the Super Tuesday and earlier states together like this and producing a hypothetical picture of the delegate allocation, the winnowing process gets smoothed over to a degree that does not match how the allocation and winnowing processes have tended to work during the post-reform era. And the sequence of the process is entirely lost.

And "winnowing process" is a loaded term. In real time -- in the context of primary and caucus voting -- those winnowing pressures manifest themselves in terms of money continuing to come in, prevailing media narratives developing, and on top of both of those, the changing perspectives of prospective primary and caucus voters.

One way to think about this is by looking at the poll results in the earliest three states (Nevada is excluded), but treating them as in a sequence. By doing that the possibility of quick February winnowing appears more likely. In fact, by coincidence, it looks natural.
Candidates with 1 percent or greater shown
Candidates qualifying for statewide delegates shown in the blue box
Coming out of Iowa, the talk would be about the four candidate race at the top, putting pressure on the other candidates to wrap it up. Whether those candidates do or do not drop out or the incentives for them to stay in are greater than in the past is easier said during the invisible primary than done when votes come in and the prospects for future votes exponentially decline. For candidates for whom it was Iowa or bust, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify staying in. If one was, say, Amy Klobuchar, then one could make the case for holding on until one's home state votes on Super Tuesday. But a finish like this would make the prospect of losing at home more likely and even less palatable.

In any event, candidates outside of the top four finishers in this hypothetical sequence after the caucuses would find it even more difficult to grab attention in the eight days between Iowa and New Hampshire. In other words, candidates may move on unwinnowed to New Hampshire, but at that point are merely zombie candidates unlikely to clear any delegate-qualifying threshold.

Candidates with 1 percent or greater shown
Candidates qualifying for statewide delegates shown in the blue box
As the sequence progresses to New Hampshire, it is worth noting that the rank ordering of the top candidates does not change. Yes, that has much to do with simultaneity of the polling, but also the influence of the national level surveys at this particular point in the 2020 invisible primary.

But also note that the number of candidates qualifying for delegates (at least statewide) has decreased. Harris might peel off a delegate or so in the district count, but those are not the sort of small victories on which presidential nomination survival is typically built. In the scenario where Harris has placed fourth in the first two contests and likely missed out on delegates in New Hampshire, South Carolina (or perhaps Nevada in reality) approaches must win territory for Harris.

Additionally, Biden winning the first two contests with Sanders and Warren respectively placing and showing in both cases with more combined support for Biden would be likely to trigger at least some "one should drop out and endorse the other" chatter ahead of the contests in Nevada and South Carolina. Again that winnowing pressure manifests itself in myriad ways.

Candidates with 1 percent or greater shown
Candidates qualifying for statewide delegates shown in the blue box
But if the results in the first two contests lead to results like those immediately above in South Carolina, then Harris would have lost her must-win contest, Warren would have fallen below the delegate qualification threshold, and Sanders would face a more than two-to-one deficit in the South Carolina delegate count, the most delegate-rich of the four carve-out states.

At that point, heading into Super Tuesday, the discussion is likely to lean toward Biden and the identity of the Biden alternative (likely a weakened Sanders). And that Biden-or-not question lodged in the backs of voters' minds is the very essence of the winnowing process. The field can and often does quickly boil down to two viable options regardless of the decisions made in campaigns that are falling behind. Again, candidates can move forward in the hopes of winning delegates in the much more delegate-rich fields of Super Tuesday, but that hope hinges on actually winning votes, votes that are harder to come by once the focus has shifted to the candidates who are viable.

In summation, what delegate allocation aggregations of this sort from CBSNews/YouGov do is build up the idea that more candidates are going to receive more delegates than they are likely to in reality (or have been likely to in past cycles). And the natural extension of that is that delegates splitting in this manner is likely to lead the process in one particular direction: a contested convention. But the polling results in the earliest three states (Nevada is excluded) actually do point to a natural sort of winnowing occurring prior to Super Tuesday. But again, those a snapshots in time -- simultaneous rather than conditional snapshots -- that are going to change to some extent as the invisible primary campaign continues.

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Earlier June Presidential Primary Move Inches Forward in DC

The District Council in Washington, DC returned to work on B23-0212 this week for the first time since a committee hearing at the end of April.

But just because the bill to shift the presidential primary in the nation's capital up a two weeks to the first Tuesday in June has lain fallow since spring does not mean that the effort to move the primary has been on the back burner. And that is more a function of the legislative process in the District than it is neglect by the council.

An emergency bill of the same intent passed earlier in the spring, was signed by Mayor Bowser, and passed congressional review to enact the move for just 90 days. A temporary measure in a similar vein was also passed the council, was signed by the mayor and is under congressional review to stretch that 90 enactment to 225 days. Neither window pushes far enough into the future to encompass the proposed date of the presidential primary, so a permanent solution is warranted.

And that is why the council has shifted its focus back to B23-0212: to make the change to the first Tuesday in June permanent in presidential election years.

But why go to the trouble of the two intermediary temporary acts? In this context, it is to signal that the primary date change is coming but has to navigate the lengthy DC legislative process first. The same basic path was followed in 2017 effort to push back the date of the primary from the second Tuesday in June to the third Tuesday in June.

In other words, the Washington, DC presidential primary will fall on June 2 in 2020, but there is a bit of a wait in getting to that point based on how a bill becomes a law under the DC charter.

5/6/19: Committee Hearing Finds Both DC Parties in Favor of a Presidential Primary Move

4/5/19: DC Council Eyes Earlier Primary with New Bill

2/7/19: DC Presidential Primary on the Move Again?

5/15/18:  Washington, DC Eases Back a Week on the Calendar

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ohio Budget Bill with Presidential Primary Move Passes the Legislature

On Wednesday, July 17, both chambers of the Ohio legislature adopted a conference committee report for the fiscal year 2020-21 budget. The vote in the state Senate saw just one dissenting vote while the House vote was marginally more divided. Of the 17 nay votes in the House, 14 were Democrats.

One item tucked into the 2600 page bill that likely did not drive much controversy was the provision to shift back the date of the Ohio presidential primary a week on the primary calendar. Should HB 166 be signed into law -- and it is a carefully negotiated budget bill, so approval is likely -- then the Ohio primary would fall on the third Tuesday after the first Monday in March rather than the second Tuesday after the first Monday in March as was the case in 2016.

And the reason for the change is exactly what it was four years ago when the Ohio legislature pushed the primary back a week from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March to the second Tuesday after the first Monday in March: it preserves the ability for the Ohio Republican Party to allocate the delegates in its primary on a winner-take-all basis. While the second Tuesday after the first Monday date worked for that purpose in 2016, it will not in 2020. It worked in 2016 because the first Tuesday in the month fell on March 1. With the month of March not beginning on a Tuesday 2020, it meant the primary would be slightly earlier in 2020, before the end of the proportionality window.

That triggered the primary move amendment added to the budget bill in late June. And this move should keep Ohio Republicans on the winner-take-all side of March 15 moving forward. The 2024 primary would fall on March 19, where Ohio Republicans would remain eligible for a winner-take-all allocation process (unless the Republican National Committee opts to change the parameters of the proportionality window after 2020).

UPDATE: Governor DeWine (R) signed HB 166 into law on July 18, 2019.

2/27/19: Ohio Bill Would Move Buckeye State Presidential Primary to May

7/9/19: Ohio Republicans Chart Subtle Calendar Move to Preserve Winner-Take-All Allocation

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Monday, July 15, 2019

Wyoming Democrats Will Caucus on April 4

In a break from the plan released for public comment earlier in the year, the Wyoming Democratic Party will not caucus in March. Rather, according to the modestly revised draft of the state party's delegate selection plan, Democrats in the Equality state will caucus on April 4.

The specific date was set during the late April meeting of the Wyoming Democratic Party state central committee meeting. Not only does this timing make the delegation eligible for a 10 percent increase to the base number of delegates (one additional delegate), but it also aligns the Wyoming Democratic caucuses with contests in Alaska, Hawaii and Louisiana. Together, those contests alongside the Wisconsin primary the following Tuesday provide a smattering of delegate selection events in an otherwise quiet area on the calendar after the Georgia primary on March 24 and before the Acela primary (Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, likely New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island primaries) on April 28. Those contests sit squarely in the section of the calendar where presumptive nominees typically emerge (not necessarily in terms of the timing, but instead based on the number of delegates allocated by that point).

Unlike a few one congressional district states, Wyoming does not split up its delegation for the purposes of allocation. All 13 pledged delegates will be allocated as one pool of delegates. Candidates receiving 15 percent or more of the caucus vote statewide will be eligible for delegates.

The Wyoming Democratic caucuses date has been added to the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

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Friday, July 12, 2019

Puerto Rico Bill Moving Presidential Primary to March Cleared Both Houses of the Legislature

Legislation has advanced through both houses of the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly to move the Democratic presidential primary in the island territory to the last Tuesday in March.

Rather than use a previous primary bill as a vehicle for the date change, a new bill -- S 1323 -- was introduced in the Senate in mid-June and made its through both houses on party line votes in less than a week.

Again, the intent of the bill is to move the Democratic presidential primary from the first Sunday in June to the last Sunday in March. On the surface, that looks like an attempt to align the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, a practice that has not been typical. The Compulsory Presidential Primaries Act (CPPA) has since 2003 defined the primary date for the Republican Party on the island as the last Sunday in March and the Democratic primary for the first Sunday in June.

However, that apparent alignment does not necessarily mean the two primaries will occur simultaneously in 2020. And the reason for that is that while Puerto Rico Democrats have traditionally used the statute cited above as defining the date of the presidential primary, the Puerto Rico Republican Party has not. Instead, the GOP in the territory has used another statute as guidance for when the party presidential primary will occur on the calendar. Since 2014 that law has given both parties on the island broad discretion in setting the date of their primaries, defining a window from the first Tuesday in February through June 15. That is why the Republican presidential primary in Puerto Rico was the Sunday after Super Tuesday in 2016 and not later in March as would be the case under the CPPA.

That may at least partially explain why Republicans in the legislative assembly voted against the changes called for in S 1323. Those changes were not viewed by Republicans as necessary because another statute already allows the Democrats in Puerto Rico to make the change. An alternative route could have been to square the discrepancies across both statutes.

It is expected that Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló will sign the bill once the legislative assembly sends it to him.

The Puerto Rico presidential primary bill has been added to the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Virgin Islands Democratic Caucuses Slated for June

Democrats in the Virgin Islands retained the party's first Saturday in June date for its 2020 caucuses in the June 2019 release of their draft 2020 delegate selection plan. And if all other active legislation around the country is passed and enacted, that will make the June 6 caucuses in the Caribbean territory the final contest on the 2020 presidential primary calendar.1

The Virgin Islands Democratic delegation will have 13 delegates in total: six automatic delegates -- the territorial governor, delegate to Congress, party chair, vice chair, national committeeman and national committeewoman -- and seven at-large delegates. It is that latter group that is most noteworthy. Rather than being allocated territory-wide as is the case in the American Samoa Democratic caucuses, the seven at-large delegates will be divvied up between intra-territory districts. The St. Croix district is apportioned four of the seven at-large delegates and the St. Thomas/St. John district the remaining three. Instead of the entire pool of delegates being allocated to candidates with 15 percent or more of the vote based on the territory-wide results, there will be two separate allocations based on the two district results.

Splitting the allocation of such a small pool of delegates into subgroups makes it harder for candidates further down in the results to receive any delegates. For instance, hitting 15 percent in the St. Thomas/St. John district would net a candidate 0.45 delegates. Technically, that is not enough to round up depending on the actual results. Absent specific results, then, the threshold to guarantee delegates up front is 16.67 percent in that district. This serves as a cautionary note about the overall allocation process. Allocating large pools of delegates is more forgiving in the rounding process, but the more refined that gets -- the more subgroups of delegates created -- the more problematic it becomes for candidates further down in the results.

Of course, this may all be moot if the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination process has resolved itself by June 6. The presumptive nominee would likely claim all or the vast majority of those delegates. However, if the contest remains active heading into the final contest, then the delegate math (and the subtle intricacies therein) may be of some consequence. Then again, a share seven delegates is not all that likely to make or break anyone at the end of the calendar. But it would be something if it was.

1 This entails legislation in Washington, DC being passed, moving the primary in the district to the first Tuesday in June. The Virgin Islands caucuses would fall just four days later on the calendar.

The Virgin Islands Democratic caucuses date has been added to the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

American Samoa Democrats Again Aim for Super Tuesday Caucuses

The American Samoa Democratic Party on July 3 released for public comment a draft 2020 delegate selection plan.

Much of the 2016 process has been carried over to 2020. There will again be ten delegates in the American Samoa delegation: six at-large delegates and four automatic delegates (DNC members). It will be those six delegates that will be allocated based on the results of the territorial caucuses. Those caucuses will fall on Super Tuesday again (March 3, the first Tuesday in March).

Candidates receiving more than 15 percent of the vote territory-wide will be eligible to be allocated a proportional share of the six at-large delegates.

The plan treats the four members of the American Samoa Democratic Party Executive Committee -- the party chair, vice chair, national committeeman and national committeewoman -- as pledged party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates, but only if they opt to run and be elected/selected for those positions; something new in the Democratic delegate selection rules for the 2020 cycle. Additionally, there is no specific plan outlined for pledging those delegates to candidates based on the results of the caucuses. The assumption then, it seems, is that those four DNC members from the territory will remain automatic and unpledged (and ineligible for participation on the first ballot if no one candidate receives a majority of all delegates including the automatic delegates).

The American Samoa Democratic caucuses now become the sixteenth contest on Super Tuesday 2020.

The American Samoa Democratic caucuses date has been added to the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Ohio Republicans Chart Subtle Calendar Move to Preserve Winner-Take-All Allocation

The Ohio Republican Party was going to have to make a change to its delegate allocation rules for 2020 anyway. The question has always been which route the party would take.

The easy way? Merely changing the reference to 2016 in the rules passed in 2015 to 2020.

Or the harder way? Actually changing the winner-take-all formula for allocating delegates to something matching the Republican National Committee definition of proportional because the date of the Ohio presidential primary for 2020 (March 10) falls in the proportionality window in the RNC rules.

Republicans in the Ohio legislature assisted last week in providing an answer by inserting language into the fiscal year 2020-21 budget bill (HB 166) to shift back the date of the Ohio presidential primary. The change would push the primary from the second Tuesday after the first Monday in March to the third Tuesday after the first Monday in March and out of the proportionality window.

While that would move the Ohio primary from a date with one regional partner on March 10 (Michigan) to another date with another regional partner on March 17 (Illinois), the new primary date in the Buckeye state would also coincide with St. Patrick's Day celebrations in the states, something at which legislative Democrats balked according to the Dayton Daily News. Rep. Jack Cera (D-96th, Bellaire), who has his own primary move bill before the legislature chimed in.
“We don’t like the election day on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m 24 percent Irish. It’s a holiday…Cleveland has a big St. Patrick’s Day party so some people are concerned.”
But just as was the case with Cera's bill to move the primary to early May, his and other Democrats' concerns may fall on deaf ears. Republicans have unified control of the Ohio legislature and control the governor's mansion as well.

That said, there is a date just a week later on March 24 that was vacant until just a few weeks ago when Georgia settled on a primary date. Whether that date with less of a crowd is inviting enough to legislative Republicans in a virtually non-competitive nomination environment for President Trump remains to be seen. The date change in HB 166 is permanent, so Republicans in the Ohio legislature may be more interested in ensuring that they are always on the winner-take-all side of the proportionality window than in advantageously positioning for future cycles.

The new Ohio presidential primary bill has been added to the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

2/27/19: Ohio Bill Would Move Buckeye State Presidential Primary to May

7/18/19: Ohio Budget Bill with Presidential Primary Move Passes the Legislature

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Friday, June 21, 2019

Raffensperger Sets Georgia Presidential Primary Date for March 24

On Wednesday, June 19, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) set the date of the 2020 presidential primary in the Peach state for March 24.

It marks just the second time since the 1980 cycle that Georgia has not held a presidential primary on the earliest date allowed by the national parties to hold primaries and caucuses. [2004 was the other.]

But while that departure from what has more often than not been the Georgia primary's traditional position on the calendar is noteworthy, some of the maneuvering behind the scenes of the presidential primary date being set is as well.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Raffensperger earlier this week suggested that a final decision on the primary date would not be made until after new voting machines for the state had been purchased. But this continued delay has drawn the ire of some local elections officials across Georgia who wanted more certainty about when the presidential primary would be scheduled.

And that is not out of the ordinary for elections officials. They crave certainty and as far in advance of an election as possible.

However, what is interesting about this is that the Georgia presidential primary dates for both 2012 and 2016 were not set by then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) until September in the years before both election years. Granted, Kemp telegraphed the date of the 2016 primary as early as 2014 when he began the push to coordinate the SEC primary, a cluster of southern state primaries on the first Tuesday in March. But the 2012 Georgia primary date was not set until the very end of September. And there was speculation even the week leading up to that decision in September 2011 about when the primary would be scheduled.

But there was no reported backlash from elected officials in either cycle (but especially 2011).

One might counter that the added uncertainty of the new voting machines may be driving this response from local elections administrators. Yet, in the quotes gathered from elections administrators by the AJC, it was not the machines that were cited as the complicating factor. Instead, reserving polling locations, potential complications with early/absentee voting, and ballot printing schedules were cited as the reasons for the response to the lack of a presidential primary date.

At least Raffensperger did not wait until the statutory deadline to set the date: December 1.

Why March 24?
Again, a late March date for the Georgia primary is unusual. Even in 2004, when last Georgia did not have a primary on the earliest date allowed by the national parties, the primary fell on the first Tuesday in March. The earliest allowed date that cycle was the first Tuesday in February. Georgia just did not move up into February with a handful of smaller states. That (move to February) did not happen until 2008 when, like the 2020 cycle, a lot of states were crowding onto the earliest date allowed.

March 24, then, is the latest a Georgia presidential primary has fallen on the calendar since the 1976 cycle that saw Georgian, Jimmy Carter, win the Democratic presidential nomination.

Why break from the norm?

Well, the AJC cites one reason: to maximize the influence. Historically, that has been the reasoning that led to a great deal of frontloading on the presidential primary calendar. As calendars became more crowded over time during the post-reform era, states continued to pile on to typically the earliest allowed date. But the calculus -- or perhaps the perception -- was different then. Maximizing influence meant holding a contest at a time on the calendar before the nomination race had resolved itself. And most states that opted to move reasoned that contests as early as possible guaranteed that influence. Even if it meant sharing a date on the calendar with 10 or 15 or 25 other states.

Better to share an early calendar spot and have some (diluted) influence than gamble with a later more isolated date that may fall after a presumptive nominee has emerged and have no influence.

But if the perception is that the nomination race may carry on a bit, then the date-setting calculus changes. Early dates continue to offer that same guarantee of some influence, but the gamble of a later date may not be as great.

Moreover, the 2011 change to Georgia law is an important piece to this puzzle. It was then that the Georgia legislature got out of the business of setting the presidential primary date and ceded that authority to the secretary of state. The biggest impact there was the timing of the decision. Whereas the Georgia General Assembly only had a window between January and early May of the year before a presidential election to make a decision on the primary date, the new law gave the secretary of state until December 1 of the year prior to the presidential election.

That January-May window can be a busy one not just internally for all the business of a state legislature, but externally for all the primary movement -- proposed or fully realized -- happening in state legislatures across the country. In other words, Georgia was always at a disadvantage because of its early legislative adjournment date. Georgia could move its primary only to see other states choose to join it on an early date, diluting the Peach state's influence on that date.

Allowing the secretary of state to make the date-setting decision and giving that office until December 1 to do that flips the tables in Georgia's favor. Now, instead of changing dates only to find later that it gets crowded, the Georgia secretary of state can wait, assess the state of any upcoming nomination race (particularly its potential longevity) and pick a position that most benefits the state.

So if it looks like a race with a large field of candidates may not winnow down to one before an open week fairly early in the calendar, then why not opt for that date? Well, that is exactly what Raffensperger has done. March 24 has been wide open on the calendar for a while now and at this late date is unlikely to see any other states reschedule for that date.

It is not a guarantee of influence, but if the nomination race continues to that point, then it could mean a great deal of influence.

Finally, there is one other factor that may have played a role in this decision other than the open date Georgia has seemingly secured for itself alone. It is something that FHQ mentioned back in January in a post about Republican state party rules changes for 2020 to help Trump:
If a state is viewed now as a strong Trump state in the nomination phase of the process, then why not move it to a point on the calendar where the number of Trump delegates could be maximized? Take Georgia. Traditionally the Peach state has been a Super Tuesday mainstay. And it may still be in 2020. However, the newly elected Republican secretary of state there may hear from the Trump campaign. So might the Georgia Republican Party. The former could set the date of the Georgia primary for some point after March 15 and that would allow the latter to set the allocation method for winner-take-all (without penalty).
Yes, the Democratic Party has the active nomination race, but that does not mean that there is not maneuvering on the Republican side. And Secretary Raffensperger is a Republican who may or may not be making this move to help Democrats in the state. He may instead be choosing a primary date that maximizes Georgia's influence on the Republican process, handing the president a guaranteed cache of delegates that may help the president secure the nomination more quickly through winner-take-all delegate allocation rules.

But that is a question for the Georgia Republican Party. It will have to make that decision before October 1.

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

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