Thursday, April 30, 2015

Colorado Bill to Reestablish Presidential Primary Introduced

On Wednesday, April 29, SB 15-287 was introduced in the Colorado state Senate. The bill would reestablish a presidential primary in the Centennial state for the first time since 2000. The details largely match the description that was leaked last week.

As FHQ said at the time, the interesting news in this is the process being created rather than the switch from a caucuses/convention system to a primary election. Under the provisions of the bill, the Colorado governor would have the power to set the date of the primary in a fairly tight window of time. Before September 1 of the year prior to a presidential election, the governor is called on to set a date for the presidential primary election the following year between:

  2. a point on the calendar NOT LATER THAN THE THIRD TUESDAY IN MARCH. 
In 2016, that would mean a small window of time on the calendar from March 1-15. However, the less date-specific front end of that constraint means that, should the national parties in the future allow for an earlier start point to the nomination process, the Colorado window would move with it (without having to return to the legislature for approval). Both that ambiguity and the ceding of the date-setting power to the governor are designed to provide the Colorado presidential primary with a little flexibility; a bit of mobility in the scheduling of the contest.

That a single individual would have the date-setting authority if this bill is passed and signed into law would make Colorado like Arizona was during the 2004-2012 period (when the governor could issue a proclamation to move the primary earlier), but also like New Hampshire and Georgia where the secretary of state holds the power to set the date. Colorado would have less flexibility than Georgia and much less than the carte blanche flexibility New Hampshire's secretary of state has to keep the Granite state presidential primary first.

One additional facet of this bill that should be mentioned is that the aforementioned ambiguity of the front end of the scheduling window does potentially create some uncertainty. Call this the Florida 2013 problem. Recall, that the original law change that brought the Florida presidential primary back into compliance with the national party rules had a similar "earliest point on the calendar in which a delegation won't be penalized" provision. If we were to count only the penalty that both parties levy for going too early, that earliest date a Colorado primary could be would be March 1. Yet, if Colorado Republicans opted for a winner-take-all method of allocation, it would shrink the window down to just March 15.

Fortunately, the last time Colorado Republicans had a primary -- and not non-binding caucuses -- the party allocated their national convention delegates on a proportional basis.

The final take home on this one is that it would transition Colorado from a closed caucuses system to a primary system opened to unaffiliated voters as well. As John Frank reported last week, this is a bipartisan move overall. There are 28 co-sponsors of the legislation across both chambers of the legislature. Two House Democrats join 17 majority Republicans and in the upper chamber where Democrats are in control, six Republicans combine with three Democratic sponsors. That is tilted toward the Republicans, but bipartisan nonetheless. Both parties appear ready to attempt to engage and battle over those unaffiliated voters in higher turnout election that would take place some time during the first half of March.

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