Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Updated Notes on the 2024 Presidential Primary Calendar

As the invisible primary leading up to the 2024 presidential primary season moves from one phase to another, it is worth taking a step back here at FHQ to better assess where the evolution of the primary calendar stands. The end of 2022 mostly brings to a close the national party phase of the process. The Rule 12 deadline to make changes to the Republican National Committee (RNC) rules for 2024 came and went this past September 30 with no significant tweaks, and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) finalized all but its calendar rules back in September as well. But while the RNC stuck with the calendar rules it carried over from 2016 (into 2020 and now 2024), the DNC punted the decision until after the midterm elections (for good reason). 

And following a December meeting, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) adopted a calendar plan that was a radical departure from the Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina (in that order) plan the party has utilized in presidential nomination rules starting with and since the 2008 cycle. That answers a few questions that were left hanging out there throughout much of 2021 and 2022. Namely...
Not only did Democrats break with the standard protocol of national parties having rules in place by the late summer of the midterm year, but the party was also more active in altering its rules as the party in the White House than the out party. And that is unusual. But it speaks to something that FHQ touched on in March of last year:
"The relative silence on the Republican side has made this all a mystery to this point in the cycle. The obvious "problem" areas once common across parties are not exactly problematic for Republicans. It could also be said that the perception of delegate selection rules problems is asymmetric across national parties. That may yet change as the cycle develops, but at this point bet on state-level changes over national-level rules changes until anything new bubbles up, something that also differs from how Democrats have handled things in their own rules change track up to now."
The problems, perceived or otherwise, have changed. This is no longer the calendar chaos of 2008 that the two national parties are trying to clean up. That was a common problem then. States had incentive -- or lacked disincentives -- to jump the queue on the primary calendar in order to chase influence and attention.  Both parties pushed back the opening of the window -- when states other than exempt ones like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can start conducting primaries and caucuses -- to the beginning of March for 2012 and spent the next several cycles devising ways to penalize violating states.1 In other words, states have been kept largely in check due to those efforts to 1) informally coordinate a February start to primary season and 2) tackle the penalty severity issue. 

But again, the problems are different now. They are asymmetric. While Republicans are content with the usual lineup of early states in their process, the Democrats have become increasingly disgruntled with the mismatch between the diversity of the broader Democratic Party network and that of the sum of the four earliest states. That divergence in goals has obvious implications for the 2024 presidential primary calendar and how it evolves.

With that in mind and now that the process is shifting from the national party phase to the state parties/government phase in 2023, a reexamination of the calendar notes from early 2021 are in order. 

1. There are still no official dates for the earliest contests

There continues to be no guidance from the RNC on the matter other than exemptions from timing penalties for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada (in that order in the rules but without the timing). And while the DNCRBC has adopted a plan that sets forth specific dates for South Carolina, Nevada/New Hampshire, Georgia and Michigan, that plan has yet to be finalized by the full DNC (a formality) and is aspirational in part or in whole. 

South Carolina Democrats will hold a primary on February 3, 2024. The state party pulls the strings there and can get that done. 

Nevada, with a Republican in the governor's mansion now dividing government with Democrats in the state legislature, is also (more than likely) locked into the February 6, 2024 position both called for in state law and set aside for the Nevada primary by the DNCRBC-passed rules package. 

Iowa's midwestern replacement in the DNCRBC plan also stands a good chance of moving into the position -- February 27, 2024 -- carved out for it by the proposed rules with a newly unified Democratic government in charge in Michigan. 

Those, as FHQ mentioned recently, are the known knowns at this point. All have positions and are either already in them or very likely will be in 2023.

The unknown knowns of the early calendar are Iowa, New Hampshire and Georgia. All three have reserved spots in at least one party's calendar plans but all three are wildcards in terms of where they may ultimately end up on the calendar.

Georgia is probably the easiest with which to deal. The DNCRBC plan calls for a February 13, 2024 presidential primary in Peach state, but that does not appear to have any buy-in from the Republican-controlled secretary of state's office. With no leverage there -- in the office that controls the scheduling of the Georgia primary -- national Democrats are unlikely to get their wish. And since there is no specific date set for the Georgia primary in state law, the primary is likely to end up in a position on or after the first Tuesday in March (Super Tuesday) to remain compliant with both parties' delegate selection rules. 

While the Georgia primary may end up after the pre-window period into which national Democrats hope to place it, Iowa and New Hampshire are likely to end up before it, which is to say before the next earliest similar contest, the South Carolina Democratic primary. But it may be the Nevada Republicans who hold the key to determining just how early the 2024 primary season begins. 

Should Nevada Republicans opt into the February 6 primary in the Silver state, then... 
  1. South Carolina Republicans likely move into a January 27 slot (the Saturday a week ahead of South Carolina Democrats),
  2. The New Hampshire secretary of state, in turn, would be likely to shift the Granite state primary to the Tuesday at least seven days before the South Carolina Republican primary (January 16),
  3. And the Iowa Republicans select the date eight days before that (January 8).
If Nevada Republicans choose to go the caucus/convention route, then they may end up with a slightly later February date, but it only has the effect of shifting back the start laid out above by a week (because of the South Carolina Democratic primary on February 3).

All of this is to say that there are some knowns in the direction these states will move, but no clear specificity about where exactly they will hold their delegate selection events. The one complicating factor is what Democrats in both Iowa and New Hampshire do. If either or both defy national party rules and go along with Republicans in their states, then the pieces may not fall into place as easily as described above. 

Then there are the unknown unknowns as the process heads into 2023: all of the other states. Clearly, state law provides dates for most of the primaries, but that can change. 

2. Automatically problematic states.

In the last calendar update FHQ described a couple of noncompliant states; noncompliant due to quirks of state law. New York sunsets its presidential primary scheduling every four years. When the presidential election year ends, the presidential primary reverts to a first Tuesday in February position. That is the date on which the Nevada primary is now set. That is compliant for Nevada but not New York. But the process in New York is for the state legislature to set the date and allocation rules in consultation with the state parties during the session in the year before the presidential election. That will get done. The process just is not at that point yet. New York, then, looks noncompliant on February 6, but will ultimately not be either on that date or a risk to be noncompliant. 

Louisiana was in another predicament. 

In 2019, the state legislature shifted the date of the presidential primary from the first Saturday of March to the first Saturday in April for the 2020 cycle alone. Like New York, there was a sunset provision. Runoff elections in concurrent municipal elections would have conflicted with the Good Friday holiday in 2020, but not in 2024. After 2020, the Louisiana primary reverted to the prior first Saturday in March date. Such a position works in cycle when that first Saturday in March follows the first Tuesday. But in 2024, the first Saturday in March precedes the first Tuesday, the traditional opening of the window in which most states can conduct primaries and caucuses. 

That would have put the Louisiana primary in conflict with national party rules. However, the legislature in the Pelican state acted in 2021 to avert that problem, shifting back the primary to the last Saturday in March. [That is a permanent change; one that does not have a sunset for future cycles.] Louisiana, then, is back in compliance with national party rules for 2024.

3. Most of the states without official contest dates are caucus states or party-run primary states. Among that group, dates are rarely set in state party rules. Hawaii Republicans are the exception. Most state parties wait until the year before the presidential election to set a timeline for delegate selection in the plans they submit to the national parties for approval.

And there is discretion in state law with regard to scheduling some primaries as well. Georgia and New Hampshire, for example, were described above.  

4. Bear in mind that all of this is in flux. Some of these laws will change. In fact, there were a handful of states in 2020 and 2021 that explored different dates, but Louisiana was the only one that made any change. Well, and the DNCRBC put forth an early state proposal that reshaped that part of the calendar relative to recent past cycles. That all may give some indication of future maneuvering, but typically the bulk of that action will not occur until 2023. That is when the most urgency on states to schedule primaries and caucuses comes: after the national parties finalize their rules for the cycle and during the state legislative sessions that begin following the midterm elections. 

Part of the description above lays out a rosy picture for an orderly formation of the calendar the rest of the way. It may ultimately differ from what the DNCRBC has laid out for the pre-window, but the calendar could fall into place without much chaos. Due to the penalties in place in both parties, it is unlikely that any states outside of Iowa, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire or South Carolina will jump into the early window (or beyond it). There may be threatening legislation in the other states, but it is unlikely to be successful. There may be movement by the remaining states, but it is likely to occur within the window. 

Regardless, state-level actors -- state parties and state governments -- will tell that tale now that the ball is in their court for 2023.

1 There was an asymmetry in that response as well. Republicans added the super penalty for states that opted to jump into January and February. Democrats, on the other hand, had been content to penalize rules breakers half their delegation during primary season while reserving the discretion to strip violating candidates of any delegates won in a rogue contest. The former penalty on states remains, but the latter has been strengthened for the 2024 cycle. 


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