Friday, January 18, 2019

Maine Lost its Presidential Primary

Since early 2016, a trend has evolved in how the 2020 presidential nomination process will operate. In that time, several formerly caucus states have abandoned the format in favor of a state-funded primary. That has happened in states like Idaho and Nebraska where there was already a primary option included in state law, but also in states like Colorado and Minnesota, where citizen-driven initiative or the legislature, respectively, created the primary option.

The latter group used to include the caucus-to-primary shift in Maine.

Used to.

The 2016 effort to re-establish a presidential primary in the Pine Tree state passed and became law, but most of the provisions in the bill (then law) expired on December 1, 2018. The sole surviving component -- the only part that did not expire -- was the study the Maine secretary of state was to have conducted with respect to the funding of the election. And while that report was issued on December 1, 2017, as called for in the statute, questions lingered about how state reimbursement to the counties conducting the elections would function among other issues.

The impetus for the sunset provision, then, was to allow for some fact finding on the funding issue, but also in order to force legislators to consider those implications before solidifying the primary for 2020. That consideration continues now.

However, there is legislation -- LD 245 -- newly before the Maine legislature to make permanent the provisions that re-established the presidential primary, but which expired toward the end of 2018. As FHQ described in 2016, those provisions include the following:

  • The secretary will then by November 1 of the year prior to a presidential election year set the date of the contest for some Tuesday in March. This date selection process will be done in consultation with the state parties. 
  • That last part is key. The state parties obviously have the final say in all of this. Despite there being presidential primary, the state parties are not required to opt into it. Those parties could continue to use caucuses as a means of both allocating and selecting delegates. But by providing some (early calendar) flexibility and by consulting with the parties, the new law maximizes the likelihood that the two state parties opt into the primary and allocate delegates through the vote in the contest. 
  • This legislation does a couple of interesting things. First, as mentioned above, the secretary of state has some carefully calibrated discretion on setting the date of the primary. The law does not set the primary for a specific date, but rather calls for it to happen on a Tuesday in March. More importantly, though, the decision on the date of the primary for 2020 and in the future rests with the secretary of state -- like in New Hampshire and Georgia -- instead of having to filter any date change through the legislative process. The discretion that the Maine secretary of state will have on this is far more restricted than in either New Hampshire or Georgia, but there is some flexibility there. That makes Maine a bit more adaptable than states with primaries scheduled for specific dates.
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Related:
Maine Decision to Re-Establish a Presidential Primary Option for 2020 Hinges on Money

Maine Committee Hearing Highlights Familiar Divisions in Caucus to Primary Shifts

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

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