Friday, July 12, 2019

Puerto Rico Bill Moving Presidential Primary to March Cleared Both Houses of the Legislature

Legislation has advanced through both houses of the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly to move the Democratic presidential primary in the island territory to the last Tuesday in March.

Rather than use a previous primary bill as a vehicle for the date change, a new bill -- S 1323 -- was introduced in the Senate in mid-June and made its through both houses on party line votes in less than a week.

Again, the intent of the bill is to move the Democratic presidential primary from the first Sunday in June to the last Sunday in March. On the surface, that looks like an attempt to align the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, a practice that has not been typical. The Compulsory Presidential Primaries Act (CPPA) has since 2003 defined the primary date for the Republican Party on the island as the last Sunday in March and the Democratic primary for the first Sunday in June.

However, that apparent alignment does not necessarily mean the two primaries will occur simultaneously in 2020. And the reason for that is that while Puerto Rico Democrats have traditionally used the statute cited above as defining the date of the presidential primary, the Puerto Rico Republican Party has not. Instead, the GOP in the territory has used another statute as guidance for when the party presidential primary will occur on the calendar. Since 2014 that law has given both parties on the island broad discretion in setting the date of their primaries, defining a window from the first Tuesday in February through June 15. That is why the Republican presidential primary in Puerto Rico was the Sunday after Super Tuesday in 2016 and not later in March as would be the case under the CPPA.

That may at least partially explain why Republicans in the legislative assembly voted against the changes called for in S 1323. Those changes were not viewed by Republicans as necessary because another statute already allows the Democrats in Puerto Rico to make the change. An alternative route could have been to square the discrepancies across both statutes.

It is expected that Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló will sign the bill once the legislative assembly sends it to him.

The Puerto Rico presidential primary bill has been added to the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

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