Monday, November 28, 2011

Pending a Likely Waiver, Minnesota Democrats Will Caucus on February 7

The original plan to hold caucuses on February 7 and release the results on March 6 is back on the table for the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. According to the party, that option was never off the table despite a change in the posted delegate selection plans. That same delegate selection plan is still posted on the DFL website, but both the events calendar and the party's official call for precinct caucuses/convention indicate that Democratic caucuses -- including a presidential preference vote -- will take place on February 7. To hold a vote on February 7, however, the DFL will need a waiver from the Democratic National Committee as that date violates the national party delegate selection rules on timing.

Now, this one is complicated because Minnesota is the rare state to have a law on the books that lays out a specific date on which a caucus is to be held. Usually caucus states are states where the state party not only picks up the tab for the contest but also has the latitude to set the date. In the case of Minnesota, the state party is opting into a state-funded option. It ends up being a caucus under the typical primary set up (in terms of funding). What this means for the parties in Minnesota is that they can opt into the state-funded contest or pay for precinct-level caucuses themselves. As is the case with primary states, the lure of a state-funded option is too hard to pass up.

Truth be told, any state party has the option of pulling out of a state-funded contest, but few do. For the Minnesota DFL, though, there is a conflict between the desire to use the state-funded -- February 7 -- option and the DNC delegate selection rules that prohibit contests -- in non-exempt states -- prior to the first Tuesday in March. The stars may align for the DFL. First of all, the race for the 2012 Democratic presidential nomination is not one that is all that consequential in the grand scheme of things. Presidential Obama will be renominated and will not face a serious challenge in the process. That makes the primaries and caucuses next year largely meaningless and as such the rules, more or less, take a back seat. The DNC, in other words, would be much more willing to look the other way in 2012 than in a year in which there was a competitive nomination race.

Secondly, "looking the other way" or not, he Minnesota DFL has a fairly strong argument for a waiver in the first place. Yes, the party did not seemingly propose an alternative to the state election law-triggered first Tuesday in February date before March 1 of this year, but Democrats in the Minnesota legislature did rush at the last minute to introduce legislation moving the caucuses back to the first Tuesday in March -- a compliant date under both the DNC and RNC rules. That legislation, however, gained no traction in either Republican-controlled chamber. And that lack of partisan control at the state legislative level is a factor that the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee considers when looking at a waiver submission. Democrats in the legislature, then, "took all provable, positive steps and acted in good faith to achieve legislative changes to bring the state law into compliance with the pertinent provisions in these rules" (Democratic Delegate Selection Rules, 20.C.7).

Finally, the fact that the Minnesota DFL is attempting to seal the results from the February 7 caucuses for release on March 6 demonstrates a certain willingness on the state party to meet the national party halfway. The DFL cannot comply with the timing of its "first determining step", but it can attempt to hold the results until the time at which the window for non-exempt states to hold contests begins.

In an earlier critique of this plan, FHQ wondered aloud about the precedent such a waiver from the DNC might set. That, however, was written at a time when it was unclear just how much of a threat Minnesota's caucuses on both sides of the aisle would affect the earliest states. Now that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are set -- for dates well ahead of Minnesota -- the February 7 date represents no threat. With the damage already done, Minnesota is much more likely to get a pass in 2012 on a non-compliant February date than if this had or will happen in a year when the Democratic nomination is at stake.

Are you following FHQ on TwitterGoogle+ and Facebook? Click on the links to join in.

1 comment:

Dan Robrish said...

This blog has some great information. One correction, though: It's the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, not Democratic-Farm-Labor Party.