Sunday, April 17, 2016

Following LePage Signature, Maine Now Has a Presidential Primary

The presidential caucus may be gone in Maine for 2020.

Over the last month, presidential primary legislation with widespread support quickly moved through the Maine state legislature. Proposed on March 23, LD 1673 establishes a presidential primary in the Pine Tree state, charges the Maine secretary of state with setting the primary date for a Tuesday in March during a presidential election year, and also tasks the secretary of state with exploring the costs (to the state) of the election.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the recent past, but stalled in the legislature. In 2016, however, the move to reestablish a presidential primary in Maine for the first time since 2000 garnered significant support. 84 co-sponsors joined the bill's sponsor, Senator Justin Alfond (D-27th, Portland) significantly helped ease the primary bill through both chambers -- 128-22 in the House and unanimously in the state Senate -- this past week and onto Governor LePage's desk.

LePage signed the bill into law on Friday, April 15.

  • The first step in the reinstitution of the presidential primary is that the office of the Maine secretary of state will study the costs of the new primary during 2017.
  • The secretary will then by November 1 of the year prior to a presidential election year set the date of the contest for some Tuesday in March. This date selection process will be done in consultation with the state parties. 
  • That last part is key. The state parties obviously have the final say in all of this. Despite there being presidential primary, the state parties are not required to opt into it. Those parties could continue to use caucuses as a means of both allocating and selecting delegates. But by providing some (early calendar) flexibility and by consulting with the parties, the new law maximizes the likelihood that the two state parties opt into the primary and allocate delegates through the vote in the contest. 
  • This legislation does a couple of interesting things. First, as mentioned above, the secretary of state has some carefully calibrated discretion on setting the date of the primary. The law does not set the primary for a specific date, but rather calls for it to happen on a Tuesday in March. More importantly, though, the decision on the date of the primary for 2020 and in the future rests with the secretary of state -- like in New Hampshire and Georgia -- instead of having to filter any date change through the legislative process. The discretion that the Maine secretary of state will have on this is far more restricted than in either New Hampshire or Georgia, but there is some flexibility there. That makes Maine a bit more adaptable than states with primaries scheduled for specific dates. 
Tip of the cap to Amy Fried for passing along information on the bill.

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