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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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Louisiana Presidential Primary Moves to April on Bel Edwards' Signature

Governor John Bel Edwards (D) on Thursday, June 20 signed into law the omnibus elections code bill -- HB 563 -- that has been working its way through the Louisiana legislature this spring.

Among other things, the legislation pushes back the presidential primary from the first Saturday in March to the first Saturday in April. And that change has less to do with the presidential primary than the municipal and ward elections that are consolidated with it. The calendar of holidays dictated a change of the municipal primaries in order not to conflict with those holidays in spring 2020.

Louisiana now joins Democratic contests in Alaska and Hawaii on the same April 4 date, a position on the calendar more sparsely populated than the slot just after Super Tuesday and just before the second most delegate-rich date on the calendar on March 10.

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

6/5/19: April Presidential Primary Bill Has Passed the Legislative Stage in Louisiana

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