Thursday, March 3, 2011

Is There a Utah Problem for the 2012 Primary Calendar?

This is Part Three in a series of posts examining early and non-compliant 2012 primary states and why they have not acted to move their presidential primaries to be timed in accordance with national party rules on delegate selection. See Part One (Connecticut) and Part Two (Delaware) as well.

  • Current Primary Date: February 7, 2012
  • Legislature Convened: January 24, 2011
  • Deadline to Introduce Legislation: February 3, 2011
  • Crossover Deadline: March 7, 2011
  • Legislature Adjourns: March 10, 2011
Unlike Connecticut and Delaware, the situation in Utah -- in terms of moving the date on which the Beehive state's 2012 presidential primary will be held -- is seemingly much more dire. To this point in the legislative session in Utah, no bills have been advanced dealing with the timing of the presidential primary directly and only two bills (HB 264 and SB 162) even cite the section of the Utah code that deals with the "Western States Presidential Primary". Needless to say, neither alters in any way the date on which that primary is to be held -- the first Tuesday in February. The former ties board of education primaires to municipal primaries while the latter changes the date of municipal primaries from September to August. But the presidential primary remains untouched.

What further complicates the situation is that there are a couple of important legislative deadlines in the Utah legislature next week. March 7 is the date on which one chamber must have finished consideration of, passed and transmitted to the opposite chamber -- a so-called "crossover" deadline -- any bill so that it can be considered there before the legislature adjourns on March 10. That is a week from today. Given how far into the legislative session Utah is, the date for having proposed legislation has already passed as well. In other words, there will have to be an amendment added to an existing piece of legislation that is agreed to by both chambers before next Thursday if a move is going to take place.1

The logical next question is whether there is any motivation to move the primary at all. And if not, what alternatives does Utah have? With no legislation to show for it, moving the 2012 primary does not seem to be something that is high on the list of legislative priorities. That said, what does Utah stand to gain by flaunting the national party rules on primary/caucus timing? Well, Mitt Romney won the state handily in 2008 and having Utah early may be of some benefit to the former Massachusetts governor. The catch is that by ignoring the rules Utah would be hit with a couple of penalties. First the state delegation would be cut in half, but on top of that the delegation -- one the make up of which is typically determined by winner-take-all allocation rules -- would have to allocated its delegates proportionally according to the new RNC rules change. Even though Romney took all the delegates from Utah in 2008, that haul would be halved and allocated differently if Utah stands pat and he is able to repeat the 2008 win in 2012.

As far as alternatives are concerned, Utah has a history of state party-run primaries and it is conceivable that the state could move in that direction without action from the legislature. But it is unclear at this point whether the state parties actually want to pick up the tab for such a contest and if they would even be willing to schedule it later to comply with national party rules if so.

What is clear is that Utah is running out of time to alter the date of its 2012 presidential primary.

Clock is ticking rating: Very High.

1This is not unprecedented. In 2007, after a bill specifically to move the presidential primary in Georgia from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February died in committee, an amendment was added to a broader elections bill to accomplish the move.

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