Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Colorado Bill to Restore Presidential Primary Introduced

Legislation has been introduced in the Colorado state House to bring a presidential primary back to the Centennial state for the first time since the 2000 election cycle.

HB 16-1454 would not only restore the presidential primary, but it would shift the decision about when to schedule the contest to the governor. The governor in consultation with the secretary of state would then have a window from the first, non-penalized date allowed by the national parties and a date no later than the third Tuesday in March in which to schedule the election. Consistent with the deadlines both national parties have, the bill calls for the decision on setting the date of the contest to be made before September 1 in the year prior to the presidential election.

Additionally and perhaps more interestingly, the bill allows unaffiliated voters to participate in the primary, but does this by allowing a temporary affiliation with one of the parties. That affiliation would expire 30 days following the presidential primary.

  • Colorado joins Maine as another caucus state to examine switching (back) to a presidential primary. The Maine legislature has already passed legislation that has been signed into law to return to a presidential primary for the allocation national convention delegates to presidential candidates.
  • 2016 has been unusual in a number of ways. One of them is that legislation affecting caucuses and primaries often does not get acted on in presidential election years. This bill may go nowhere in Colorado, but it is another example of a caucus state reexamining the process.
  • The reason FHQ raises the specter of the bill going nowhere in Colorado is that is exactly what happened in 2015. A bill to restore the presidential primary died in committee, halted by mostly Republican proponents of the caucus system. 
  • Ceding the date-setting power to the governor is unusual, but not unheard of. Both Arizona and New Mexico have in the past given such authority to their governors. Typically, however, when a state legislature gives up the power to set the date of a presidential primary, it tends to shift it to another part of the state executive branch, the secretary of state (see Georgia and New Hampshire).
  • State parties are "entitled" to use the presidential primary so long as they have a qualified presidential candidate. However, they are not forced to use the primary. This leaves open the door to one or both parties maintaining a caucus/convention system. But Colorado is one of the rare states where state law affects the scheduling of presidential caucuses. 

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for sending along news of the bill's introduction and Marilyn Marks for an earlier draft of the legislation.

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