Thursday, February 2, 2023

How Much Will Democrats' Primary Calendar Change Away from Iowa Affect the Overall Process?

Thursday's episode of the New York Times podcast, The Daily, raised the curtain on changes the Democratic National Committee (DNC) are about to make to the party's presidential primary calendar this weekend in Philadelphia. In A Revolution in How Democrats Pick a President, host Michael Barbaro and Times national political reporter, Adam Nagourney, detailed the important role the Iowa caucuses have played in past Democratic presidential nomination races and what a shift away from that -- from that early calendar tradition -- might mean for 2024 and beyond. And their conversation dipped into familiar territory for those who read this site with any regularity: the unintended consequences of national party rules changes in the presidential nomination process.

Only, the discussion landed on a narrative that pitted diversity gains against retail politics lost. There are definitely trade-offs to the altered primary calendar lineup the DNC is on the cusp of adopting this weekend, but it is not clear that this is one of them. But it was not just about retail politics. The basic story Barbaro and Nagourney told was one of the post-1968 changes to the Democratic presidential nomination process. It was that classic story of the nomination decision being pulled out of smoke-filled rooms and out of the hands of party bosses, decentralized and given over to rank-and-file voters in primaries and caucuses. Losing Iowa and replacing it with South Carolina, in their telling, is to take a step away from a system in which every candidate has a chance. And if one has followed any of the backlash from New Hampshire since the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee adopted the calendar change proposal in December, that should be a familiar storyline. 

But telling the story the South Carolina for Iowa swap in that frame ignores a number of important factors.  First, focus on the states involved. There is now half a century's worth of stories like Jimmy Carter's or Barack Obama's in Iowa; stories of them and countless other candidates of both parties meeting voters, shaking hands, kissing babies and hearing policy concerns. There is a certain mythology that has built up around it all. And that mythology is a part of the fabric of the presidential nomination process in the United States. 

Yet, it is not as if South Carolina has not been a part of the early calendar -- since 1980 on the Republican side and since 2008 in the Democratic process -- and developed its own style of retail politics; its own stories. And even though South Carolina has been behind Iowa and New Hampshire in the order, as the process has become increasingly nationalized, candidate campaign footprints in states deeper into the calendar (like South Carolina and Nevada) have only grown. Yes, South Carolina is larger than Iowa in population, but it is not as if national Democrats were moving California's primary to the front of the queue. 

Second, and on a related note, the emphasis Barbaro and Nagourney place on method of delegate selection -- primary or caucus -- lacked context as well. Part of the story they told was one of trading in the intimacy of the caucuses in Iowa for a primary in a larger state where candidates would inevitably have to focus on advertisements to reach more primary voters. Well, that leaves out the fact that the DNC has been moving away from caucuses for at least the last two cycles. 2020 saw just three states with caucuses before the pandemic hit. And in attempting to protect their first-in-the-nation position on the calendar for 2024, Iowa Democrats had pledged to move to an all-mail, absentee system for the "caucuses." In 2024, Iowa is not even going to be the Iowa of old depicted in the podcast. 

In making those changes, Democrats at both the national and state level have been and are moving toward more participation and less of what Barbaro and Nagourney called the "intimacy" of the caucus process. But that confuses the intimacy of the assembled caucus process with the closeness of retail politics. Some of that may, in fact, be lost in the transition from Iowa to South Carolina. But one does not yet know how much, if any, that will change in 2024. There has not been a cycle in the post-reform era in which Iowa and New Hampshire have not led the pack, and thus no baseline for comparison. And again, South Carolina is not California, and it is smaller than Iowa in terms of area. Retail politics can happen, and has happened, in the Palmetto state.

Look, this calendar change the DNC is likely to adopt in the coming days is a BFD. Lost retail politics and decreased odds of the little guy rising to the nomination may be part of those changes. some degree.

But that will not be apparent that from a largely uncontested Democratic nomination race in 2024. There may be some shift to the air war over the ground war as it were, but it is not like the party is completely abandoning the concept of an on ramp to the nomination that starts in small states. After all, the beginning of the proposed calendar is still composed of small states. One could argue about the cluster of early, small contests in the first four days with respect to retail politics. But that is far less likely to be of much consequence when the president is likely to seek the Democratic nomination again and do so with (probably) only token opposition.

And to be honest, any decrease in the chances of the Jimmy Carter's of the world in future presidential nomination races is probably less about party elites replacing Iowa and more about the ongoing nationalization of the nomination process; something that the national parties are limited to control anyway.

Bill to Move Pennsylvania Presidential Primary to March Introduced

Earlier this week legislation was filed in the Pennsylvania state Senate to push the presidential primary in the commonwealth up five weeks to the third Tuesday in March.

Senator David G. Argall (R-29th, Shuylkill) and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors -- five other Republicans and four Democrats -- introduced SB 224. The measure would shift the presidential primary as well as those for other offices held in even years away from what has been a traditional position for the Keystone state on the primary calendar in the post-reform era. Only once -- in 2000 -- has Pennsylvania conducted a primary on a date other than the fourth Tuesday in April. [The pandemic forced the primary into June in 2020, but it was initially planned in that traditional position at the end of April.] 

The change would not only shift the Pennsylvania presidential primary out of that typical calendar spot, but would take it out of a mid-Atlantic/northeastern regional primary that has existed in various forms since 2012. That would entail leaving a later position behind where Pennsylvania has tended to be the most delegate-rich prize available to a date already occupied by Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio. March 19 may be earlier, but clear gains from the move are less apparent. On the one hand, voters in the commonwealth would have a higher probability in March rather than April of voting in a contest that has not yet been decided. However, on the other, it would mean sharing the spotlight with other delegate-rich states, one of which -- Florida -- is home to one Republican already in the presidential race (Trump) and another (DeSantis) rumored to join it at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Nevertheless, this bill is now out there, and unlike other similar legislation in previous cycles, this one has both a longer list of sponsors and a bipartisan one. That may help push it through the state Senate. Of course, similar legislation unanimously passed the body in early 2020 (pre-pandemic). The state House may prove an obstacle in 2023 as well, but at least two members have signaled that a bill similar to this one is on the horizon there.

This legislation has been added to FHQ's updated 2024 presidential primary calendar



Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Whitmer's Signature Sends Michigan Presidential Primary to February 27

The new Democratic-controlled Michigan state legislature made quick work of SB 13, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) wasted little time on Wednesday in signing it once it hit her desk. 

And with that, the measure shifts the presidential primary in the Great Lakes state up a couple of weeks to February 27 for the 2024 cycle, in line with the proposed primary calendar adopted by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) in December. That calendar is due to be voted on by the full DNC later this week. 

However, there remain a couple of lingering questions in this move. 

The first is that even though SB 13 has been signed into law by Whitmer, it does not take effect now. And that is based on the fact that there was not supermajority support for the change in the state Senate. Majority Democrats were unified in favoring the move, but Republicans stood en masse against it. And without Republican support, the measure fell short of a constitutional requirement for supermajority backing to take immediate effect. That will likely force Democrats in control of the legislature to adjourn the session at least 90 days before February 27. Legislation passed without supermajority of support in the Senate does not become effective until a 90 buffer following an adjourned session has passed. It is a complication, but likely a minor one at the end of all of this. 

More problematic is what this presidential primary date change does to Republicans in Michigan. There is just one presidential primary for both parties, and a February 27 presidential primary is noncompliant with Republican National Committee rules. It falls too early -- before March 1 -- and would subject the Michigan Republican delegation to the super penalty in 2024 if the state party opts to allocate delegates based on the primary. One fix is for Republicans to lobby Democrats in the legislature to create and fund a separate and later presidential primary that is consistent with RNC rules. But the budgetary hit from an additional Republican presidential primary election is likely enough to sink the chances of that plan. 

Another fallback option is for the Michigan Republican Party to opt out of the February 27 presidential primary altogether and select and allocate national convention delegates based on a caucus/convention system that does not run afoul of national party rules. That skirts sanction but comes at a cost. A caucus/convention process would come with lower participation overall and be less likely to motivate and organize a broad group of voters with the general election in mind. Participation and penalties aside, it could also be that the mode of delegate selection -- primary or caucus -- could also potentially impact who or which types of candidates win the Michigan presidential nomination contest in 2024. And as the Michigan Republican Party struggles after the 2022 midterms, the type of contest could become a further point of contention. 

So yes, the Michigan presidential primary will shift to February 27, but that will not be the end of the story in 2023.

Ranked Choice Voting in 2024 Presidential Primaries, Part Two

See Part One: Ranked Choice Voting in 2024 Presidential Primaries -- 2023 legislation 

Rules and the National Parties

In part one of this two-part series, FHQ examined states where legislation may expand the reach of ranked choice voting (RCV) into the presidential nomination process. And incremental though that growth may be in the 2024 process, one point raised in that first post remains true: Neither national party has weighed in on ranked choice voting in the nomination process; not in an official capacity in any event. 

Given the partisan pattern observed in the RCV legislating on the state level thus far in the 2023 session, one might expect to see a Democratic National Committee more receptive to the practice and a Republican National Committee more inclined to stand against it. But again, the incremental, and to this point small, advances have not forced either party to act (or react) to RCV adoption on the state level in any corrective way or in an effort to provide guidance to state parties and state legislators. However, just because the national parties have not moved to officially regulate RCV or its expansion does not mean that the issue is not on the national parties' radars with respect to its potential impact on the presidential nomination process.

In fact, Democrats had a series of discussions concerning RCV throughout 2022 in the context of their push to finalize the rules package that will govern the 2024 nomination. To be clear, those efforts did not bear any fruit in terms of actual rules, but the discussions did provide a glimpse into where the national party -- or the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) anyway -- currently stands on the matter. While no rules for or against RCV made the 2024 DNC rules, there was an RCV-related rules change that was considered at the August DNCRBC meeting, a meeting that was initially set aside for making decisions on pre-window waivers for early states. But once the decision was made to punt on finalizing the states to receive waivers until after the midterms, that left considerable time for the panel to more broadly consider a bevy of other potential changes. It is not that those potential rules changes would have been given short shrift in a meeting dominated by the early primary calendar for 2024, but rather, that other possible amendments to the rules could be discussed more fully instead of quickly dispatched, whether for or against, without the calendar on the agenda. 

And so it was with a potential add-on to Rule 14.B brought to the table by David McDonald (WA) and Elaine Kamarck (MA). 

Rule 14.B describes the parameters of the 15 percent threshold presidential candidates must hit in order to win any delegates in any state or subunit therein. RCV can overlap with that process in several ways. In a traditional sense, RCV has been used to identify a majority winner in a contest. The system redistributes votes based on voters' collective preferences until there is a majority winner. But the delegate allocation process in the Democratic Party operates differently. It is not necessarily about candidates winning a majority, but about those candidates who clear that 15 percent barrier either statewide or within the various congressional districts within a state. 

That is an easy enough fix. The cut-off for redistribution can be moved from a majority to 15 percent like what has appeared in New Hampshire legislation attempting to institute RCV in recent years. But that is also what is missing from the RCV law that will be operable in Maine in 2024. That disparity between what is on the books in Maine and what may be codified in other states for 2024 is a reason for national parties to potentially offer guidance to states -- state governments and state parties -- considering changes to delegate selection processes for this current cycle. 

Moreover, another point where RCV and the delegate allocation process cross paths is in how and to whom the 15 percent threshold applies. As an illustration, recall FHQ's [exaggerated] example from part one:
Here is an example. Raymond Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic Party chair, told Politico in making a case for the importance of the first-in-the-nation primary there, that Joe Biden was everyone's second choice in the Granite state primary in 2020. Biden, of course, came in fifth in the contest; something that every recent calendar story on New Hampshire Democrats potentially losing their position notes. And folks, Buckley's statement was figurative. He did not mean that Biden was literally every voter's second choice. But if one were to take him literally and assume that RCV had been in place in New Hampshire for 2020, then Biden would have stood to gain a lot of ground. 

How much ground? 

If the RCV bill considered in the Granite state in 2019 had become law, then three candidates -- Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar -- would have cleared the 15 percent threshold in the first round tabulation. But those three only accounted for 70 percent of the vote statewide. Under RCV, the votes of the remaining 30 percent would be redistributed based on voter preferences for the other various candidates. If one takes Buckley's notion literally -- that Biden was everyone's second choice -- then all of those redistributed votes from candidates under 15 percent would have gone to the eventual Democratic nominee, turning Biden's 8.4 percent into nearly 30 percent and a victory. 
Now, in that example, Biden vaults from fifth place in the initial tabulation to winning once votes have been redistributed under RCV. But who qualifies for delegates in that scenario? Does that 15 percent threshold apply to the results after the first tabulation or the final tabulation? That is a very meaningful distinction. And it appears, given the commentary from the members of the DNCRBC around this potential rules change in August, that rules makers lean toward the former. Biden may have hypothetically been everyone in New Hampshire's second choice in the 2020 presidential primary, but he only received just north of eight percent of first preferences. That falls well short of 15 percent. And more importantly, that hypothetical shift from eight percent among first preferences to around 30 percent and not only winning on a final tally, post-redistribution, but qualifying for delegates is not consistent with the tenor of the current threshold rule. 

But it is issues like those -- who qualifies for delegates and how -- that put reforms like RCV front and center before national party rules makers when those reforms overlap with existing processes. And it was those very issues that McDonald and Kamarck were trying to get out in front of heading into 2024. 

So, what was the proposed change? 

First, here is Rule 14.B as it was in 2020 and how it will be in 2024 (minus the struck line at the end):
Rule 14.B:
States shall allocate district-level delegates and alternates in proportion to the percentage of the primary or caucus vote won in that district by each preference, except that preferences falling below a fifteen percent (15%) threshold shall not be awarded any delegates. Subject to section F. of this rule, no state shall have a threshold above or below fifteen percent (15%). States which use a caucus/convention system, shall specify in their Delegate Selection Plans the caucus level at which such percentages shall be determined.
That is all clear enough. Rule 14.B sets a 15 percent -- no higher, no lower -- threshold to qualify for delegates. Now, here is the rider that McDonald and Kamarck proposed appending to the rule:
Nothing in this Rule is intended to prohibit a State from providing a second choice to a voter who casts a ballot for a candidate who is ineligible to be awarded delegates. A State that intends to provide such a second choice to voters must clearly describe its method for doing so in its proposed Delegate Selection Plan and comply with all regulations of the RBC relating to second choices. Delegates shall be allocated on the basis of the final vote and credentials challenges must be based on the final vote.
This addition is less clear. First of all, the amendment does not directly mention RCV. It neither supports nor opposes its use. But in defending its addition to the rule, McDonald cited a couple of goals: 1) the desire to get out ahead of what is likely to be further experimentation with RCV on the state level for 2024, and 2) setting some guardrails -- particularly candidates qualifying with 15 percent based on first preferences -- to save the DNCRBC some potential headaches during the delegate selection plan review process later in 2023. 

Both of those are noble enough goals. Yet, the language of the above amendment does not exactly spell out either. Also, as some DNCRBC members noted, that rule, if added, can be viewed as if not an indirect endorsement, then an indirect encouragement of RCV by the national party, an encouragement not consistent with the prevailing thinking among the committee members. 

And that is the key factor to tease from this August discussion: the prevailing thinking. The rule did not go anywhere. In fact, MacDonald withdrew the amendment so that the committee would not have to vote up or down on it and either directly or indirectly endorse or oppose RCV.  But the discussion around the possible change was enlightening with respect to where current members on the DNCRBC stand on the reform. Most members who spoke fell somewhere in the middle. The vast middle ground in this case occupies a space where the panel acknowledged that RCV is something that may incrementally advance for the 2024 cycle, but a reform about which the group wanted to remain "agnostic." There was no apparent appetite to craft a rule that would function as a tacit endorsement and would, in turn, potentially open up the floodgates for increased state consideration if not experimentation with RCV. 

In other words, let that experimentation happen organically and on a small scale that the DNCRBC could deal with in mid-2023 during the delegate selection plan approval stage. "Small scale" is important in this case. The only RCV usage in 2020 was in small states with state party-run processes. And the only official addition to this point for 2024 is the state of Maine. All the efforts so far at the state level in 2023 are also in small states. [The proposed RCV systems in New York and New Jersey would take effect after 2024 and those in Virginia already appear to be on life support as the commonwealth's 2023 session quickly comes to a close.] If that is the scale of the RCV expansion, then it is something the DNCRBC can tackle in the review process (even with unforeseen issues outside of RCV likely to present typical review stage problems).

Other members, however, spoke more forcefully against RCV. As if writing from the woods around Walden Pond, Frank Leone (DC) took a Thoreauvian position to "simplify, simplify, simplify." As he said, "I think right now our democracy is under attack. And right now the best way to protect our democracy is to make voting easy and keep counting simple." He went on to say that proponents of RCV had made the case during the 2020 delegate selection review process that RCV was akin to the assembled caucuses made famous in Iowa. Those are the caucuses where voters assemble in preference groups, and those candidate groups who do not make the viability threshold (15 percent) can (physically) move over to another group that did initially qualify in a second round. But, as Leone noted, the party has moved away from caucuses in recent years. To endorse -- directly or indirectly -- RCV would be to walk back that development to some degree.

What Leone's and the additional agnostic viewpoint indicate is something that often gets highlighted in these rules discussions. They often have to maintain a delicate balance between an array of competing interests. And on the issue of RCV what emerged from the DNCRBC meeting in August was a panel that was balancing a potential need to add guardrails around RCV's usage in the 2024 presidential nomination process against an apparent desire to not simultaneously (and indirectly) endorse the reform.

While the efforts to institute RCV on the state level may be driven by Democratic legislators, that may be reflective not of where the whole party is -- or even where the national party is -- but rather where some legislators who happen to be Democratic are on the issue. For its part, the DNC did not weigh in on RCV, not in the rules in any event. But the DNCRBC did leave itself room to provide guidance to state parties outside of the rules -- in its regulations (or how it interprets the application of the rules). State parties will have access to that when finalizing their various delegate selection plans, but without any tacit support for or opposition to RCV. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Michigan House Passes February Presidential Primary Bill

After passing the state Senate late last week, SB 13 was quickly taken up and passed by the Michigan state House on Tuesday. 

The legislation to shift the presidential primary in the Great Lakes state to the fourth Tuesday in February was initially discharged from committee and taken up on the floor where it was subsequently passed on a 56-53 party line vote with majority Democrats in support. 

SB 13 will now be transmitted to Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) for her consideration. The measure is intended to bring the Michigan presidential primary in line with the primary proposal put forth by President Biden in December and adopted soon thereafter by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC). Whitmer's signature a given considering the assurances the governor and Democratic legislative leaders in Michigan made to the DNCRBC (via letter) earlier this month to meet the panel's February 1 deadline to act on the presidential primary move.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Ranked Choice Voting in 2024 Presidential Primaries, Part One

One electoral reform that FHQ has touched on in the past and has increasingly popped up on the presidential primary radar is ranked choice voting (RCV). And let us be clear, while the idea has worked its way into state-level legislation and state party delegate selection plans, widespread adoption of the practice is not yet at hand. 

However, there has been RCV experimentation on a modest scale in the delegate allocation process primarily in small states. And that has opened the door to its consideration on a broader scale elsewhere. States, whether state parties or state legislators, are seeing some value in allowing for a redistribution of votes based on a voter's preferences to insure, in the case of presidential primaries, that every voter has a more direct say in the resulting delegate allocation. 

That is apparent in legislation that has been proposed in state legislatures across the country as they have begun convening their 2023 sessions. Again, RCV is not sweeping the nation, as the map below of current legislation to institute the method in the presidential nomination process will attest. There are a lot of unshaded states. But if RCV was adopted across those states where it has been passed (Maine), where it has been used in Democratic state party-run processes (Alaska, Kansas and North Dakota), and where it is being considered by legislators in 2023 then it would affect the allocation of nearly a quarter of Democratic delegates and a sixth of Republican delegates. That is not nothing. 

Granted, just because a bill has been introduced does not mean that it will pass. If one has followed FHQ (or the legislative process anywhere) for a while, then this observation should not come as a surprise. Bills to shift the dates on which presidential primaries occur are frequently introduced, but often fail. Take Virginia and ranked choice voting as an example. Of the four RCV bills filed in the Old Dominion, half of them have already been effectively killed in committee. Now, one of the remaining two could still become law, but the odds, given the failures to this point, do not necessarily portend success.

So, if none -- or, at best, very few -- of these bills become law, then why does any of this bear watching, especially at a site that tracks changes to the presidential primary calendar and delegate selection process? 

The answer lies in the impact RCV could have on the delegate allocation process. Like most things with delegate allocation, changes are likely only to matter at the margins. But in a close nomination race, those margins can matter. 

Here is an example. Raymond Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic Party chair, told Politico in making a case for the importance of the first-in-the-nation primary there, that Joe Biden was everyone's second choice in the Granite state primary in 2020. Biden, of course, came in fifth in the contest; something that every recent calendar story on New Hampshire Democrats potentially losing their position notes. And folks, Buckley's statement was figurative. He did not mean that Biden was literally every voter's second choice. But if one were to take him literally and assume that RCV had been in place in New Hampshire for 2020, then Biden would have stood to gain a lot of ground. 

How much ground? 

If the RCV bill considered in the Granite state in 2019 had become law, then three candidates -- Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar -- would have cleared the 15 percent threshold in the first round tabulation. But those three only accounted for 70 percent of the vote statewide. Under RCV, the votes of the remaining 30 percent would be redistributed based on voter preferences for the other various candidates. If one takes Buckley's notion literally -- that Biden was everyone's second choice -- then all of those redistributed votes from candidates under 15 percent would have gone to the eventual Democratic nominee, turning Biden's 8.4 percent into nearly 30 percent and a victory. 

Yes, that is a tremendous exaggeration, but one intended to highlight the ways in which RCV can matter in the allocation process, whether rejiggering the order of finish or, probably more realistically, padding the stats of a would-be winner under the regular rules.  But that is why this is important.

Of course, that functional view of the effects of RCV omits some of the more political components of RCV in view of the reality on the state level. Most of the push for RCV has a particular partisan flavor to it. Legislation is being offered primarily by Democrats in mostly Democratic-controlled states. Two-thirds of the 21 currently active RCV bills have Democratic sponsors. Thirteen of those 21 bills have been introduced in states with unified Democratic control.

Republicans, on the other hand, have been less inclined to support RCV. There are a couple of Virginia bills that have Republican sponsors and a smattering of bipartisan efforts across the country as well. But that support has been limited, and Republicans have been far more successful in promoting bans on the use of RCV. Both Florida and Tennessee have prohibitions on the practice and South Dakota is considering legislation to go down a similar path. 

But while that partisan difference exists, any bills enacted would impact votes in state government-run primary elections, regardless of party. Neither national party has weighed in on RCV -- not in terms of rule making for or against the method -- and any ban instituted would not affect the way the allocation process has traditionally worked. Yet, laws like the RCV law in Maine affect both Democratic and Republican primaries that are funded and run by the state. RCV bills enacted in blue states will affect the Republican nomination process as well (if there is no state party discretion to opt out). That bears watching not just in Maine, but in Democratic-controlled states as well.

Most of the legislation is to establish RCV, and while some of those bills may be successful, most will likely fail. But that points toward a potentially expanded -- although perhaps only incrementally -- use of and experimentation with RCV during the 2024 cycle. 

A few notes on bills included and excluded from consideration:

1. The intent was to highlight legislation that would affect presidential primaries. That includes bills that would exclusively cover presidential primaries and those that would impact all or most primaries, including presidential primaries. 

2. FHQ was probably a bit more inclusive than necessary. A handful of the bills listed above while currently active, would not take effect until after 2024. The New York and Oregon legislation is that way. The 2022 New Jersey RCV bill that carried over to the second session in 2023 would not take effect until the January 1 twelve months following the point at which the secretary of state in the Garden state had determined all voting machines were operable for RCV. New Jersey and New York together account for a significant chunk of delegates on the Democratic side and none of those would be impacted by this legislation in 2024.

3. Some bills were not included. There is an RCV ban bill in North Dakota as well. But there is no state-run presidential primary in the Peace Garden state. Similarly, ban legislation that sought to prohibit RCV only in local elections -- as in Minnesota -- were also excluded. Finally, if RCV was tethered to a broader push to move to a nonpartisan primary like in New Mexico, then that was also left out. It should also be noted that Nevada was left unshaded on the map above. The state Democratic Party used RCV in the early voting portion of the caucuses in 2020, but not across the entire process.

4. Hawaii technically fits two categories on the map. Democrats in the Aloha state used RCV in their party-run primary in 2020, but have legislation that combines a switch to RCV and the use of a state-run presidential primary as well as separate legislation to establish a presidential primary and move to RCV in all elections (including any presidential primary that may be created).

Friday, January 27, 2023

The RNC Presidential Primary Debates Committee is Back for 2024

Lost in all the recent talk of the Republican National Committee (RNC) reaching out to a diversity of networks during the planning stages for presidential debates to come later this year was the fact that behind it all is a national party committee. 

The on-again-off-again presidential primary debates committee is back on again for the 2024 cycle. First written into RNC rules in 2014 for the 2016 cycle as the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates, the rule and the committee were scrapped for 2020. And both moves made sense at the times those decisions were made. With a wide open and competitive nomination race to replace a term-limited (Democratic) president on the horizon, it was sensible and shrewd for the RNC in 2014 to devise formal rules to dictate the direction of its primary debates, an increasingly visible if not important component of the invisible primary, for the 2016 cycle. But with an incumbent president seeking renomination in 2020, the standing committee became less necessary with only token opposition lining up to contest President Trump's grip on the nomination.
Yet, with the conditions of 2024 more likely to resemble those of 2016 than 2020, the necessity of a debates committee became apparent once again. There were not many changes to the rules adopted by the 2020 Republican National Committee before Rule 12 cut off the ability to amend them before last September. There were some. And one of them was to bring back the presidential primary debates committee for 2024. 

...with some important differences from the previous iteration

Here is a look at both rules side by side (from the Rules of the Republican Party):

[originally Rule 10(h), but later reordered as Rule 10(a)(10) for 2020 before being eliminated]
There shall be a Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates, which shall be composed of thirteen (13) members of the Republican National Committee, five (5) of whom shall be appointed by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and each of the four (4) regions shall elect two (2) members, one man and one woman, at its regional caucus at the RNC Summer Meeting in each even-numbered year in which no Presidential election is held. The chairman of the Republican National Committee shall appoint the chairman of the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates from among the members thereof. The Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall have the authority to sanction debates on behalf of the Republican National Committee based on input from presidential campaigns and criteria which may include but are not limited to considerations of timing, frequency, format, media outlet, and the best interests of the Republican Party. Each debate sanctioned by the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall be known as a “Sanctioned Debate.” Any presidential candidate who participates in any debate that is not a Sanctioned Debate shall not be eligible to participate in any further Sanctioned Debates.
[the new Rule 10(a)(11)]
If appointed pursuant to subsection (c) of this Rule, the Temporary Committee on Presidential Debates shall have the authority to sanction debates on behalf of the Republican National Committee based on input from presidential campaigns and criteria which may include but are not limited to considerations of timing, frequency, format, media outlet, candidate qualifications, and the best interest of the Republican Party. Each debate sanctioned by the Temporary Committee on Presidential Debates shall be known as a “Sanctioned Debate.” All presidential primary candidates shall also agree in writing to appear in only sanctioned Primary and General Election debates. Any presidential primary candidate who does not agree in writing or who participates in any debate that is not a Sanctioned Debate shall not be eligible to participate in any further Sanctioned Debates. 
[emphasis FHQ's]
[1] The subsection (c) clause that now begins the rule refers to the RNC chair's power to form committees. That is a significant substitution because it rids the national party of the need to constantly tweak the rules every cycle dependent upon whether an incumbent Republican president is seeking reelection. If the chair has the discretion to create committees, then there is no need to continually craft and re-craft rules to deal with what will inevitably be a recurring issue. To wit...

[2] In addition, the committee in future versions will be temporary (if formed under the chair's discretion at all) and not a standing committee as it was in its previous iteration during the 2016 cycle. There is no need for a standing committee, but there is some regular and recurring need for a committee to deal with this subject.

[3] The next difference between the 2016 and 2024 versions of the rule is notable. The list of criteria the committee will consider before finalizing rules governing the presidential primary debates process has been enhanced to include candidate qualifications. While a polling threshold was used in 2016 to differentiate between those candidates who qualified for the main event debate and those relegated to the secondary debate, that was something that was not a formal part of the rule for the 2016 cycle. The standing committee (and the RNC itself) at the time filled in that detail. However, by formally adding candidate qualifications to the calculus, the RNC process comes more in line with how the Democratic National Committee (DNC) handled things under competitive conditions for the 2020 cycle. Granted, what constitutes "candidate qualifications" remains undefined as of now (and will remain so in the rules), but the temporary committee will no doubt again fill in that detail.

[4] Another facet of the 2024 rule that is new also borrows from the 2020 DNC process. Only, the Republican rule for 2024 takes it a step further. Republican candidates, by rule, will have to sign a pledge to participate in only debates "sanctioned" by the committee. Like the 2020 DNC process, that applies to presidential primary debates. Unlike the Democrats four years ago -- or Republicans eight years ago, for that matter -- that pledge will also apply to the eventual nominee and his or her participation in general election debates. Following the RNC's 2022 split with the Commission on Presidential Debates, there is some question as to whether the party will, absent some negotiation, participate in general election presidential debates. The temporary committee now has the power to sanction (or not) those debates. And candidates who sign the aforementioned pledge will presumably have to abide by that in the fall of 2024. Of course, the eventual nominee will likely have some significant say in whether he or she participates in those debates in the same way that a presumptive nominee has a say in his or her convention. 

[5] Finally, there is a whole section on selection of the committee in the 2016 version of the debates committee rule that has been stricken from the 2024 version. Ultimately, the chair has discretion over the creation of the committee, but under the current rule, there are no clear parameters concerning the size and selection of the membership of the temporary committee. In 2016, the RNC chair had five selections of thirteen with the remaining eight given to the four regions into which the RNC divides states and territories. Now, not only does the chair have the power to form the committee, but also has the ability to select its entire membership. This likely means little for the remainder of the 2024 cycle. The committee has already been chosen and has begun acting, reaching out to media outlets and considering borrowing DNC-type thresholds. Of course, there could be a new RNC chair after the 2023 RNC winter meeting, but it is unlikely that a new chair would disband the current panel and re-form it with the new chair's stamp. It would be unlikely but not impossible since the rule is silent on any transition to a new chair. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Michigan Senate Passes February Presidential Primary Bill

After being introduced two weeks ago, SB 13 -- the legislation to shift the Michigan presidential primary to the fourth Tuesday in February -- sat awaiting placement on the Michigan state Senate calendar for consideration on the floor by the full body.

Thursday was that day. 

This bill is a vehicle for a change in the scheduling of the presidential primary in the Great Lakes state that aligns it with the newly adopted 2024 calendar proposal by national Democrats. The new Democratic majority in the Michigan Senate supported the measure. 

Republicans in the chamber did not. 

Senator Jim Rundestad (R-23rd), the lone dissenting vote from similar (Republican-sponsored) legislation in December, urged senators again to vote no. "Colleagues, join me in voting no on this big Gretch 2024 bill," he said, referring to the possibility of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024. Senator Edward McBroom (R-38th) was equally blunt: "When is the last time Michigan picked a winner in the primary? We pick losers. Been doing it for a while."

However, considering a version of this bill was passed by the Republican-controlled state Senate at the conclusion of the 2021-22 session, there were a number of members who voted for the February primary move before they voted against it. All 18 Republicans stood against SB 13.

All 20 Democrats, however, moved the legislation forward, pushing it into the state House where the lower chamber is already consider its version of the (exact same) legislation.

The vote today along with the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee noting in its meeting last night that Michigan had "completed their waiver requirements to our (DNCRBC) satisfaction," should quiet for now some of the local Michigan stories about the state potentially not meeting the February 1 DNC deadline.


Companion Super Tuesday Bill Introduced in Hawaii House

Another bill to establish a presidential primary in Hawaii and schedule it for Super Tuesday in 2024 has been introduced in the state House in the Aloha state. 

Speaker of the House, Rep. Scott Saiki (D-25th, Ala Moana), filed HB 1485, legislation with the same language as SB 1005. That this bill has the backing of the speaker says something about how seriously the legislature is likely approaching legislation to shift from caucuses to using a primary for allocating national convention delegates in the presidential nomination process. It is not a sure thing, in other words, but has more robust support than the similar efforts in 2018.

But again, Hawaii is small enough, Democratic enough and far enough away from the mainland that it will be difficult to garner much attention from presidential candidates anyway. But even lost in a sea of more delegate-rich contests on Super Tuesday, a primary there would at least insure that more Hawaiians from both major parties have the opportunity to weigh in with their presidential preferences before the race is (likely to be) effectively over in a May position. Depending on how these two bills progress (and another proposing a May primary), however, these are the sorts of ideas that the Hawaii legislature will consider when scrutinizing these two bills. 

This legislation has been added to the updated 2024 presidential primary calendar

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee Extends Waiver Compliance Window for Georgia and New Hampshire

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) met remotely on Wednesday, January 25 to consider extensions for Georgia and New Hampshire to comply with the national party's proposed calendar for 2024. In order to attain waivers to appear in the early calendar slots reserved for them, Democrats in Georgia and New Hampshire must either complete the requirements put before them by the DNCRBC or show provable, positive steps toward their completion by June 3, 2023.

In Georgia's case, Peach state Democrats must get some buy-in from Republicans in the state who control the scheduling of the presidential primary. There are ways of getting there with Republican help -- the Georgia secretary of state's office has set the criteria -- but it will likely take the DNCRBC bending a little on the president's vision for the calendar adopted in December.

But Georgia did not come up much in the context of the conversation among DNCRBC members. Instead, much of the period in which the floor was open for comment was dominated by the roadblocks obstructing New Hampshire's path to compliance with the waiver mandates and the reaction in the Granite state to the DNCRBC's adoption of the calendar proposal. DNCRBC member from New Hampshire, Joanne Dowdell, delivered the familiar arguments that have made the rounds over the last month from the Granite state. Her's was a simple recitation of the facts. Basically: New Hampshire Democrats are stuck; stuck between a state law that places the decision on the presidential primary's date in the hands of the secretary of state and a Republican-controlled state government with a demonstrated lack of interest in changing either the primary scheduling law or adding no-excuse absentee voting. Folks outside of the New Hampshire Democratic Party organization in the state may be more agitated and use more inflammatory arguments as this process continues, but the state party itself will likely continue along the above lines. 

What is likely to be the dug-in position of the DNCRBC, if not the DNC, with regard to the ongoing New Hampshire situation is something voiced by DC DNCRBC member, Mo Elleithee. His contention was that New Hampshire has not over the course of the last five decades been the first contest in the primary calendar order. In fact, the Granite state has been second and has had that position protected by the DNC (explicitly starting in 1984). The current plan continues to protect that (second) position and asks that New Hampshire share the space with Nevada. 

Of course, that is the crux of the problem. New Hampshire Democrats cannot comply with that. ...if they intend to operate under the state law. Unmentioned by Dowdell was any potential alternate course the state party could take to select/allocate delegates and come into compliance with a calendar plan that will not be fully adopted until June at the earliest. The DNCRBC may be trying to nudge New Hampshire Democrats in that direction, but they may not find a receptive audience. To move to an alternative is to undermine the very state law that protects the New Hampshire primary. The incentives just may not be there to move Democrats in the Granite state from that position.

But they and Georgia Democrats -- and the DNCRBC -- now have until June to figure all of that out. 

The DNCRBC unanimously adopted the Georgia and New Hampshire extensions with all 25 members present on the call in support. That means that these two waiver extensions extend past when initial draft delegate selection plans are due to the DNCRBC for review on May 3. Additionally, the new June 3 deadline for Georgia and New Hampshire to comply is around nine months later in the cycle than when the DNC has in the past finalized the calendar rules/waivers. That is not exactly time lost for the 55 other states and territories to prepare and finalize their plans (with DNCRBC approval), but it does leave some important particulars about the Georgia and New Hampshire primaries -- their dates -- unresolved. That affects state-level preparation for those contests but also impacts the candidates. 

Now that means little if President Biden opts to seek reelection and runs largely unopposed. But this process could bleed over into the Republican nomination race. It will not affect Republicans in New Hampshire. The secretary of state will schedule the presidential primary for some time seven or more days before any other contest that is not Iowa. Likely sometime in January 2024. Yet, if Georgia can be slipped into the end of the pre-window (and that takes a while to play out on the Democratic side) that could affect Republican candidates' preparation for a pre-Super Tuesday primary in the Peach state if not a soon-to-follow Super Tuesday. Granted, that is likely to factor into Republican decision makers' thinking on helping Democrats out with this plan.  

The bottom line is that the DNCRBC took a rather unprecedented step -- leaving this unresolved until the late spring of the year prior to the presidential election -- but that underscores how serious the panel is about finalizing the president's calendar plan as close to its initially presented form as possible.