Wednesday, June 5, 2019

April Presidential Primary Bill Has Passed the Legislative Stage in Louisiana

Last week the Louisiana Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee passed an amendment to HB 563, a bill focused on revising some technical aspects of the Louisiana Elections Code. The newly adopted amendment proposes shifting the presidential primary in the Pelican state from the first Saturday in March to the first Saturday in April.

On the surface, this may look like a maneuver on the part of Louisiana Republicans in the legislature to shift back to a later date and move to a more winner-take-all formula for allocating delegates. But it is more complicated than that.

The Louisiana presidential preference primary is tethered to municipal and ward primary elections as well. While the presidential preference primary is a one-off election on the first Saturday in March, those municipal and ward primaries are typical of primaries in the Pelican state. They are often precursors to runoff (general) elections five weeks later. Five weeks later than the first Saturday in March is the second Saturday in April. And in 2020, the second Saturday in April falls within three days of one of the enumerated holidays -- Good Friday, in this case -- in Louisiana code. Elections under the same statutes cannot fall within three days of one of those holidays.

The legislative solution to this holiday-triggered scheduling conundrum initially was to move everything up a week earlier, placing the presidential preference primary (and the other primaries as well) on the last Saturday in February.

Well, to regular readers of FHQ, that should send up red flags. Any presidential primary or caucus held before the first Tuesday in March in either party makes the violating state party vulnerable to a reduction of national convention delegates.

The February date never appeared in the bill, but was something worked on outside of the legislature by both major state parties and the governor before the conflict (possible rules violation) was raised. That prompted coordination by the same parties on an alternative date. And the one initial date that allowed for a five week window -- from primary to general election for those municipal offices -- was the first Saturday in April.

That amendment was adopted by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday, May 29. The state Senate passed the amended version 37-1 on Sunday June 2 and the state House concurred with the changes 96-2 on Monday, June 3. The near-unanimity speaks to the coordination across parties in and out of the legislature on the date change.

HB 563 now heads to Governor John Bel Edwards (D) for his consideration. And since he was involved in the prior discussions, the expectation should be that he will sign the bill.

The move would align the Louisiana presidential primary with the party-run Democratic primaries in Alaska and Hawaii on the same date, Saturday, April 4. As 2020 calendar spots go, it is not a bad spot. Yes, it follows the March rush of contests. But it falls at a point on the calendar where there is not a whole lot of competition -- the Wisconsin primary is the following Tuesday -- and any remaining candidates would have incentive to trek down and pop in on Pelican state primary voters. The drawback is that Louisiana would be the last of the southern states to hold a contest. But the benefit, on the Democratic side in any event, is that Louisiana's primary electorate is predominantly African American. That could come into play in a significant way potentially regardless of who remains in the race for the Democratic nomination at that juncture.

The Louisiana bill has been added to the FHQ 2020 Presidential primary calendar.

Hat tip to Andrew Tuozzolo for passing news of the Louisiana shift to FHQ.

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