Monday, January 19, 2015

Oklahoma Bill Would Move Presidential Primary Back Three Weeks

The Oklahoma legislature has yet to officially convene, but already there is a bill pre-filed to shift the Sooner state presidential primary back three weeks in 2016.

The legislation, SB 233, was pre-filed/introduced on Thursday, January 15 by state Senator Brian Crain (R-39th, Tulsa). If passed by the legislature and signed into law, the bill would move the  Oklahoma presidential primary from the first Tuesday in March to the fourth Tuesday in March. For 2016, that would mean moving the Oklahoma primary out of the shadow of not only neighboring Texas but the other southern states endeavoring to cluster in the so-called SEC primary on March 1.

But does shifting the primary back three weeks offer Oklahoma voters relief from the possibility of being lost in the shuffle on March 1 with Texas, Florida, Georgia and Alabama; all with larger Republican delegations -- delegates -- than Oklahoma? It could. The calendar spot three weeks later on March 22 is far less crowded than March 1 looks to be.1 Arizona is the only other state currently occupying that slot. Less competition among states on March 22 -- at least as of now -- may translate to more attention for Oklahoma and Oklahoma issues should the races for the Democratic and Republican nominations still be unsettled that deep into March.

However, that may not be the only motivation behind the proposed move in Oklahoma. At least part of what drove the Arizona primary from the last Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday following March 15 in legislation passed last year was the preferred method of Republican Party delegate allocation in the the Grand Canyon state.2 Arizona Republicans have for the last few cycles utilized a winner-take-all allocation of delegates. To preserve that, Arizona shifted its primary back beyond the March 15 winner-take-all threshold detailed in the RNC rules (Rule 17.a).

Oklahoma could be moving in a similar direction (or at least motivated to move in a similar direction). That does run counter to the traditional delegate allocation method in the Sooner state. It has been common for Oklahoma Republicans to allocate congressional district delegates in a winner-take-all fashion based on the vote tally in each congressional district. The at-large delegates were similarly allocated winner-take-all based on the statewide vote.3 That, too, would comply with the post-March 15 RNC guidelines, but would not mean that the statewide winner would be entitled to all of the Oklahoma delegates (as in Arizona or Florida in 2012).

Hat tip to Richard Winger for passing news of this legislation on to FHQ.

UPDATE (2/12/15): Bill passes Senate Rules Committee
UPDATE (3/3/15): Bill passes Senate

1 As the earliest date on which non-carve-out states can hold delegate selection events, March 1 is attractive not only to southern states attempting to form a regional primary, but all states.

2 The other was that the Arizona primary would have violated the RNC rules on timing with a February primary which would have greatly penalized the state's delegation size.

3 That was the method used in 2008. In 2012, the Republican Party in Oklahoma made some attempt to proportionalize the delegate allocation; a move that was beyond the bare minimum required by the RNC rules that governed the 2012 process.

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