Monday, March 4, 2013

Nevada Bill Would Create January Presidential Primary

Word emerged late this afternoon (on the east coast) that a bill had been introduced in the Nevada legislature to create a new presidential primary in the Silver state and to hold it concurrently with the statewide primaries for state and local offices in January.

There is a lot to SB 212, so let's have a look at that and the implications (assuming the bill actually passes).
  • Contrary to the Twitter post from the AP's Sandra Cherub, this bill does not abolish the Nevada caucuses. However, there are provisions in the bill to push the precinct meetings back to a point on the calendar later than the proposed presidential primary. This is consistent with the delegate selection process in a great many primary states. The primary dictates how the eventual delegates are bound and the caucuses actually select those delegates in a multi-stage process leading up to the state convention. 
  • As FHQ mentioned above, the bill would position the new presidential primary (and concurrent primaries for other state offices) on the Tuesday before the last Tuesday in January. The last Tuesday in January has been the date of the Florida primary for the last two cycles (2008 and 2012). FHQ suspects this is a would-be attempt to pre-empt any move by the Florida Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee to jump the carve-out states at the head of the queue. 
  • The Tuesday before the last Tuesday in January 2016 is January 19 (the date as it turns out of the 2008 Nevada caucuses). That provides Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with a very small window of time in which to hold their respective contests. The Nevada shift from a caucus to a primary has the effect of switching the day of the contest from Saturday to Tuesday. That helps the other carve outs some. South Carolina could hold its primary on Saturday, January 16. New Hampshire could, in turn, conduct a Tuesday, January 5 primary, leaving Iowa with very little room in which to have its caucuses. Realistically, a Saturday, January 2 caucus would be the only workable, post-New Years date left (a possibility FHQ raised recently).1 
  • This bill, if passed, would also be a violation of the national party rules. There are no Democratic Party rules for the 2016 cycle yet, but if the rules from the previous cycle carryover, then Nevada would lose half of its delegates. Things on the Republican side, where there are 2016 rules, would be more interesting. Nevada would be subject to the super penalty (a reduction to nine delegates plus the three RNC members from the state) in the RNC rules if it held the only January contest and (importantly) was not forced to that date by another state encroaching on the carve-out states' calendar territory. If, however, a state like Florida does flaunt the rules on timing and forces the carve-out states to an earlier date outside of the February window called for in the RNC rules, Nevada would not be subject to the penalty. The language of the rule does not address whether a carve-out state takes the initiative to move to a position before February before being provoked. 
  • If a rogue state is a western state (defined as Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and/or Wyoming), then the Nevada secretary of state can move the primary to as early as January 2 on the condition that the primary not fall on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday. It is worth noting that there is no required buffer between Nevada and any other state, western or otherwise. But if a western state attempts to jump ahead of Nevada, the secretary of state can push the primary up to January 2. 
  • Additionally, the legislation also requires the state parties to, in electing delegates, to have that process "reasonably reflect" the results of the presidential primary. There is no definition of "reasonably reflect" in the bill. 
  • All five sponsors of the bill are Republicans (three Republican senators and two Republican members of the Assembly). Democrats control both legislative chambers in Nevada. That will have an impact on how far this bill goes. 
  • Nevada last held a presidential primary in 1996.
Depending on this bill's progress in the next few weeks, this will give Republicans at the RNC Spring Meeting in LA next month something to discuss when the Rules Committee convenes.

[These changes are included on an updated 2016 presidential primary calendar here.]
1 UPDATE: It should be noted that the 2008 and 2012 Democratic Party Delegate Selection Rules placed South Carolina in the fourth position on the calendar behind Nevada. The RNC rules do not specify any particular order to the carve-out states; only that they hold contests within a one month window prior to the next earliest contest. That would mean that South Carolina (Democrats and/or Republicans) could technically squeeze into a Saturday, January 23 spot. That, in turn, could provide some relief for Iowa and New Hampshire. The Granite state could occupy Tuesday, January 12, and Hawkeye staters from both parties could claim Monday, January 4 for caucuses. Of course, that is barely any change from the January 3 starts in both 2008 and 2012.

These moves would be dependent upon Florida following the rules of both parties enough that it does not end up on the last Tuesday in January for the third consecutive cycle in 2016. South Carolina Democrats may be fine with a Saturday, January 23 primary ahead of a January 26 Florida contests, but South Carolina Republicans have insisted on at least a week between the Palmetto state primary and the Florida primary (the next southern primary). That would make the January 23 date unusable for the SCGOP and trigger the scenario described above. See more in the comments section here and here.

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astrojob said...

"That provides Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with a very small window of time in which to hold their respective contests. The Nevada shift from a caucus to a primary has the effect of switching the day of the contest from Saturday to Tuesday. That helps the other carve outs some. South Carolina could hold its primary on Saturday, January 16."

That assumes South Carolina would want to jump ahead of Nevada. Is that really a given? South Carolina seems to be more concerned about being first in the South than 3rd overall. In 2008, SC held their primary on the same day as Nevada, and later than Michigan. In 2012, it looked like SC was going to be perfectly content to go fourth (after IA, NH, and NV), up until the calendar squeeze from Florida's decision to go in late January ended up bringing pressure on Nevada to go later.

I don't think it's a given that, if Nevada goes on Jan. 19, that South Carolina will go earlier than that. Maybe they would, but it hardly seems like a sure thing.

As an aside, do either of the party's rules from 2012 (or in the case of the GOP perhaps, the 2016 rules) condition Nevada's status as a carve out state on being a caucus? If Nevada switched to a primary, but scheduled it for February, would that still be allowed?

Josh Putnam said...

That's a fair point about South Carolina. The Democratic Party rules put the Palmetto state in the fourth slot, but the Republican Party rules don't specify an order.

Much will or would depend on what other states do. South Carolina Republicans would probably be content to hold their primary the Saturday after a January 19 Nevada primary as long as Florida is not on January 26. But a Florida primary on the last Tuesday in January pushes South Carolina Republicans up to the 16th.

Of course, the state of South Carolina (government) would likely prefer one primary date from a budget perspective, but that is not a requirement of the law. The state parties decide on the dates.

As to your other question, there is nothing in either parties rules that requires Nevada to hold caucuses. Given the way the NVGOP has conducted the last two caucuses, the RNC might actually prefer a primary. The caucuses are mentioned by name in the timing rules on the Democratic side, but that would cause a clerical fix in the rules as there is no requirement for a caucus.

As a side note, the DNC in choosing Nevada in 2006 as a carve-out wanted some primary/caucus balance in the two new states, but it was hardly a requirement since other western primary states were considerd (Arizona).