Sunday, June 9, 2019

New York April Presidential Primary Bills Outline 2020 Delegate Selection in the Empire State

Although New York Democrats signaled in the April release of the state party draft delegate selection plan that April 28, 2020 would be the date of the presidential primary in the Empire state, that only passed the baton off to one other crucial actor in the process: the state legislature.

The New York process is a unique one with respect to how the rules of the presidential nomination come together. In some states there can be tension between the legislature and state parties, breaking down the lines of communications between the actors on what the preferred rules are for the state's delegate selection process. And obviously part of that tension is partisan in the case of a legislature controlled by one party making decisions that state party on the other side the partisan divide would otherwise not desire. Republicans in Washington state during the 2012 cycle, for example, mostly opposed the efforts to cancel the presidential primary in Evergreen state. Yet, majority Democrats passed legislation (against a split Republican minority) and a Democratic governor signed the bill into law. That forced Washington Republicans to utilize a caucus rather than primary in that cycle.

But in New York over the last several cycles the legislature and the parties have developed a bit of a routine. The 2008 cycle saw the state join the logjam on the February 5 Super Tuesday and after that point the presidential primary -- or spring primary as it is referred to in statute -- has stayed on or defaulted to that first Tuesday in February date. February has been off limits to states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina following 2008 under national party rules, and although New York has remained compliant, the calendar movement has only been temporary. For 2012, the New York legislature shifted the February primary back to late April to join a mid-Atlantic/northeastern regional primary, but at the end of 2012, the date reverted to February. The same sequence repeated itself during and after the 2016 cycle. Again, the legislature pushed the February primary back to April (however, one week earlier than in 2012), only to include a sunset provision that expired at the end of 2016.

That constant revisitation of the primary date forces the legislature to examine New York's spot on the calendar every four years. And while that is technically true, the effect is only indirect. The main purpose of the review is so that legislators can consult with the state board of elections and the state parties on delegate selection for the upcoming cycle. And that consultation with state parties is mostly about ensuring that the actions -- its legislative output -- of the legislature are consistent with national party rules.

Basically, the legislature defers to the parties, and then, toward the end of its legislative session in the year prior to a presidential election introduces legislation that reflects the delegate selection processes laid out by the two state parties. That includes the date of the contest, but also a number of other important aspects of the delegate selection processes for each party.

With the clock ticking down to the end of the legislative year in the Empire state, legislation on the 2020 presidential primary became more and more likely and was introduced this past week. Both the Senate (S 6374) and Assembly (A 8176) versions are identical. Unsurprisingly, the bills call for an April 28 primary, aligning the presidential primary in New York with similar contests in a would-be contiguous group of six states including Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. That places that Acela primary in a position on the calendar that has been if not decisive in recent cycles, then influential to the ultimate resolution of nomination races.

One aspect that may make New York even more influential on the Republican side is that the GOP in the Empire state has returned to a winner-take-all delegate allocation formula for the first time since the 2008 cycle. The state Republican Party had adopted more proportional rules in both 2012 and 2016. That is the headline grabbing change that fits within a broader narrative of Republican state parties maneuvering to make their delegate selection rules more advantageous to President Trump during his renomination/reelection cycle.

In another change relative to the 2016 Republican process in New York, candidates and their campaigns will be responsible for slating congressional district delegates rather than congressional district committees making those decisions. At-large delegates will continue to be chosen by the state central committee.

On the Democratic side of the equation, the devil is in the details. New York is and always has been a state that demands a lot of campaigns seeking ballot access there. And that is less in terms of the number of signatures required, and more in terms of the organizational mettle required. There are intricacies that serve to separate the best and worst organized campaigns. For example, the petition requirements for a candidate to get on the ballot in New York are 5000 signatures of "then enrolled" voters. But New York is also among the states where delegate candidates are also up for election on the same presidential primary ballot. And congressional district delegate candidates have to have 500 signatures from voters who enrolled as Democrats on or before February 1, 2019. That is a subtle difference, but one that could trip up less organized campaigns attempting to line up a slate of delegates. They would not be able to rely on newly registered voters for those signatures, but rather, voters longer established as Democrats. Given the proposed date of the primary, however, the filing deadline is a little later. Campaigns would have a bit more time before the mid-February filing deadline to square everything away. And by that point, the field is likely to have winnowed some anyway.

But the big take away from the introduction of these bills is just that: the legislature part of this process -- the end point -- is now in motion.

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