Friday, February 27, 2015

Minnesota Legislation Would Create Presidential Primary

There has been a great deal of talk lately about end of February deadlines. Funding the Department of Homeland Security was not the only that required action by the end of the month. Just two weeks ago, the state parties in Minnesota, as called for by state law, agreed to a March 1 date for presidential caucuses in 2016. The state parties did with two weeks to spare what they neglected to do four years: set a date for the caucuses. Without that agreement, the caucuses are automatically scheduled for the first Tuesday in February, a date non-compliant with the national party delegate selection rules.

Whereas Minnesota was non-compliant in 2012, the 2015 agreement on a March 1 date for the 2016 precinct caucuses keeps the North Star state from crossing the national parties. Everything is settled then, right?

Minnesota may still hold March 1 caucuses next year, but new legislation could potentially alter those plans. A trio of Republican lawmakers has introduced a bill in the Minnesota state Senate -- SF 1205 -- to create a presidential primary in the Gopher state and consolidate it with the primaries for state and local offices (scheduled now for August) on the last Tuesday in March.1

A few notes on this one:
  1. This is just the most recent attempt in Minnesota to switch from a caucuses/convention system to primaries. Similar attempts failed most recently in 2008 and 2009
  2. Creating a presidential primary for 2016 would be the first presidential primary in Minnesota since 1992. Democrats continued to use the caucuses format that year (though there was a beauty contest primary that Bill Clinton won), but Republicans used the primary for binding/allocating delegates. They were selected/chosen in the caucuses/convention process.  
  3. The Minnesota legislature is currently divided. Democrats control the state Senate and Republicans hold a majority in the state House. This primary bill has been proposed by minority party Republicans in the upper chamber. Unlike past years -- see 2008 and 2009 links above -- when there have been similar bills introduced, they came in pairs; one in each chamber. This effort to create a presidential primary was filed with no companion in the state House. Again, Republicans control the House. If this was a move with broad-based support among Republican legislators, one would expect to see a House bill too. For now, there is no such bill. 
  4. Democrats have been quiet on the proposal and the chair of the Minnesota Republican Party is not a fan
  5. The last Tuesday in March -- March 29, 2016 -- is wide open now. There are no other states with nomination elections on that date. But are legislators and others in the parties in Minnesota willing to trade in March 1 caucuses for a primary four weeks later? The state parties in announcing the March 1 caucuses agreement expressed a desire to provide caucusgoers in Minnesota with a voice in the nomination process. The deeper the race gets into primary season, much less just March -- the more likely it is that some candidate will have clinched the nomination or forced the other viable competitors out of the race. 
  6. It is not altogether clear that the parties would participate in the presidential primary election even if it is created. Nothing in the primary bill includes anything directly affecting the law regarding the caucuses process.
Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for sharing this news with FHQ.

UPDATE (3/11/15): House companion bill (identical to Senate version) introduced

1 The group that originally proposed the legislation has subsequently been joined by two other Republican senators.

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