Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Michigan Presidential Primary Bill Stuck in End-of-Session Rush

The countdown is on for SB 1207, the current legislation that would shift the Michigan presidential primary up to the second Tuesday in February.

But the bill may become a casualty of the legislative hustle and bustle as the 2021-22 legislation approaches its adjournment. Michigan Radio/WVPE reports that the bill may take a backseat to other priorities in the state House. Rep. Ann Bollin (R-42nd, Brighton), who chairs the House Elections and Ethics Committee, indicated that she would be more inclined to move on legislation focused on moving the August primary for other offices to June. 
“The most important date that the local clerks want changed is to move the August primary to June. That’s what I hear most about and that’s what their greatest concern is, is that we should be looking at an election that can really make a difference,” Bollin said.
But Bollin struck a positive tone on the possibility of a deal to pass the presidential primary bill in exchange for passage of the August-to-June House bill in the Senate. 

Granted, being low on the priority list and the session nearing a close are not the only roadblocks facing SB 1207. And that is doubly true now that the Democratic National Committee has taken the first step toward adding Michigan to the group of early states at the front of the 2024 presidential primary calendar. The DNC positioning of the contest for the fourth Tuesday in February (February 27, 2024) conflicts with the second Tuesday in February (February 13, 2024) date for the primary called for in the Republican-sponsored legislation in Michigan. Despite the fact the the Republican majority state Senate got all voting Democrats to side with them on SB 1207, the Republican majority in the House may not be able to similarly count on Democratic support without a change to align the date in the legislation with the DNC calendar outline.1 

And even if there is a deal across chambers to pass both primary bills without any changes, Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) may veto it to protect Michigan's newly won position in the Democratic process, opting to wait on Democratic control in the 2023-24 legislature. 

Yet, SB 1207 could still be amended to reflect the DNC date for the Michigan primary at the end of February and work its way through the legislative process. But the fact remains that at this point, it is not clear whether this bill will be the actual vehicle for changing the presidential primary date in Michigan or whether that task will be punted to Democratic legislators in the majority early next year. 

Given the hoops the Michigan Democratic Party has to jump through for the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, an amended SB 1207 could be preferable. Under the new guidelines from the DNC, the Michigan Democratic Party has to secure signed letters from the governor, the incoming state House majority leader and the incoming state Senate majority -- all Democrats -- pledging to pass legislation to enable a February 27 primary date. The party has to hand those letters off to the co-chairs of the DNCRBC by January 5, 2023. All such legislative changes are to be finalized by February 1, 2023.

That is a quick turnaround for new legislation to have been passed and signed into law, especially when the new Democratic majority will be interested in moving other items on its agenda. 

None of this is to suggest that this will not get done. It will. Michigan will have a February 27 Democratic presidential primary. The uncertainty that exists now surrounds how it all happens in the legislature: now or next year.

1 Republicans also have a compliance problem with the Republican National Committee rules if the primary is scheduled for any time in February. The Michigan Republican Party may support the primary move in SB 1207, but any intervention from the national party level may additionally slow things down, forcing state Republicans to focus on finding a way to split the presidential nomination process in the Great Lakes state into two partisan primaries.


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