Saturday, March 30, 2019

Maine Democrats Signal Caucuses in Draft Delegate Selection Plan, but...

FHQ has been following the release of delegate selection plans by state Democratic parties across the country since Idaho Democrats released their plan for public comment toward the end of January. In particular, FHQ has kept an eye on caucus states, not only for the dates on which those contests are tentatively scheduled for 2020, but for how they plan to respond to the new DNC rules pushing for increased participation in the format.

While Maine fits into that category as well -- traditional albeit not constant caucus state -- there is another set of attendant questions raised in the Pine Tree state: will there be a primary option and will Democrats there utilize it for delegate allocation? Following the release of the Maine Democratic Party draft delegate selection plan, the answer appears to be, "Caucuses, but we'll get back to you."

The plan, then, lays out a caucus/convention system through which delegates to the national convention will be selected and allocated. However, the plan acknowledges that there is legislation pending in the Maine legislature to reestablish a presidential primary. In fact, there are two bills: one to establish a March presidential primary similar to the one that was created in 2016 but expired in 2018 and another similar bill that would conduct a March primary under a ranked choice voting system. One thing that can be gleaned from the Maine Democratic Party draft plan is that the party seemingly prefers the latter. Moreover, the plan indicates that should the ranked choice presidential primary bill pass the legislature and be signed into law, then the party would utilize the primary over the caucuses (and submit a revised plan to the DNC later).

But until such time that Maine has a presidential primary codified in statute, Democrats will plan on conducting a caucus/convention system with precinct caucuses commencing on Sunday, March 8. That would put the Maine Democratic caucuses in line with the date of those conducted in 2016, the Sunday after Super Tuesday.

That is not the only aspect of the planned caucuses that would carry over from previous cycles. Unlike the other caucus states that have released draft delegate selection plans thus far in 2019, Maine Democrats are not laying the groundwork for any fundamental changes to the caucus process to promote increased participation. There are no virtual caucuses. There is no early voting. Instead, the party will, in the event that it conducts caucuses, rely on the same no-excuse absentee voting system the party has used since 2004 to allow those Democrats with conflicts with the caucuses' date and/or time to express their presidential preference.

One can read that at least a couple of different ways. First, the state party is comfortable with the past level of participation under an absentee system that has been tested over four presidential cycles. But second, while maintaining the status quo may indicate how confident the state party may be in the plan passing muster with the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, it may also signal some confidence that the party is waiting on the state legislature to work through the particulars of a presidential primary option. [It could, of course, be both as well.] One thing is for certain: the Maine legislature will adjourn in mid-June, so an answer would come between now and then. Both primary bills have been shelved in committee awaiting a working hearing at which time the bills may be amended.

One other aspect of the current draft plan from the Maine Democratic Party worth flagging is the proposed way of allocating delegates. The preference on that front appears to be for a truly proportional method with no threshold to qualify for delegates. In other words, candidates would not have to win up 15 percent or more of the vote statewide or in one of the two congressional districts to be allocated any delegates. If that gets rejected by the RBC and the party cannot win a waiver to allocate delegates in that way, then it will use the traditional 15 percent threshold to determine which candidates receive delegates and those who do not.

The tentative caucus date for Maine has been added to the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

1/18/19: Maine Lost its Presidential Primary

2/1/19: Maine Decision to Re-Establish a Presidential Primary Option for 2020 Hinges on Money

2/9/19: Maine Committee Hearing Highlights Familiar Divisions in Caucus to Primary Shifts

3/16/19: Alternative Bill Would Reestablish a Presidential Primary in Maine but with Ranked Choice Voting

3/22/19: Maine Committee Hearing Finds Support for and Roadblocks to a Ranked Choice Presidential Primary

4/23/19: New Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill Introduced in Maine

5/10/19: Maine Committee Working Session Offers Little Clarity on 2020 Presidential Primary

6/3/19: Maine Senate Advances Super Tuesday Primary Bill

6/4/19: On to the Governor: Maine House Passes Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill

6/19/19: Fate of a Reestablished Presidential Primary in Maine Not Clear Entering Final Legislative Day

6/20/19: Governor Mills' Signature Sets Maine Presidential Primary for Super Tuesday

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