Monday, December 19, 2022

What Happens if States Don't Go Along with the National Party? [Annotated]

Meg Kinnard has a super helpful explainer up at the Associated Press about how parties and states set their presidential primary and caucus dates. There is good stuff in there. We need pieces like these. But the section added on the penalties applied to violating states by the national parties highlights the fact that some things just get lost in the oral and written histories of presidential nominations over time. 

A few things about that penalties section...

First, the DNC does have a penalties regime in place for rogue states. If a state jumps into the pre-window period on the calendar, then that state loses half of its delegates.1 But the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) also has the discretion to increase that penalty. This is what was witnessed in Florida and Michigan in 2008. Both states would have been stripped of half of their delegates under the rules. But the DNCRBC, getting little to no help from either state party in Florida or Michigan or state Democratic legislators (some of whom had voted for the primary date changes that put both states in violation of the rules) opted to make an example of both in late 2007. Using that discretion, the DNCRBC stripped both states of all of their delegates. 

And yes, near the end of primary season in 2008, the DNCRBC did restore all of those delegates to both Florida and Michigan in a Memorial Day weekend compromise that held that all delegates from the two states to be seated but only retain half a vote at the convention. But that was not the end of the story. At the beginning of August 2008, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic nominee, requested that the states' full voting rights be restored at the Denver convention later in the month. It was a request Obama's main opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) echoed and the Credentials Committee at the convention honored.2 

It is this very tension that state Democratic parties in both Iowa and New Hampshire are now banking on for 2024. That is, the national parties are typically torn in this situation. On the one hand, upholding the rules -- or relenting -- has implications for future cycles (and state behavior in them). But on the other, at that time in the cycle -- the convention -- those same national parties and the nominees they are set to formally nominate are transitioning toward a general election fight where unity is key; unity that would be disrupted if one or more state delegations are not seated at the convention. The timing just is not right for national parties to truly and effectively crack down (unless maybe the state is a lost cause or a sure thing). 

Kinnard then moves on to 2012...

After the chaos of 2008, both national parties saw the need to right the ship for 2012. Despite the fact that both the DNC and RNC shifted back by a month the point on the calendar when non-carve-out states -- those other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- could hold contests, Florida and Michigan jumped the queue into the pre-window once again. They were joined by a handful of non-binding Republican caucuses. 

The Republican rules covered the noncompliant Florida primary at the end of January and the similarly noncompliant Michigan primary at the end February. Both lost half of their delegates. The few non-binding caucuses skirted the Republican sanctions because no delegates were allocated directly based on the results of the first stage caucuses. But the penalties that were levied were upheld at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. 

Nothing was done on the Democratic side with Florida or Michigan in 2012 because the state Democratic parties in each shifted to caucuses during that cycle to avoid sanction from primaries moved by Republican-controlled state governments and because President Obama was seeking renomination without any serious opposition.

It is worth noting that Florida and Michigan Democrats in the state parties and state legislatures made good faith efforts to comply with the rules in 2012 in contrast with 2008. It is those sorts of efforts under Rule 21 that often help in avoiding sanction from the DNCRBC. 

Things then shift to penalties on candidates...

The description here would be, I suppose, closer to what the Republican National Committee does to candidates; ding them on speaking slots. But none of that is officially part of the RNC rules. And, in fact, it would be less an RNC move than a presumptive nominee's at that point. It is their convention after all, and the nominees-to-be tend to orchestrate things with assists from the national party. In that light, a move to bump a former opposition candidate to a poor speaking slot for campaigning in a rogue state months before would be more petty than anything.

But while the RNC does not have official candidate penalties, the DNC does. It has since the same 2008 cycle rules changes that also added Nevada and South Carolina to the pre-window lineup of states. But those penalties were never meted out because it was discretionary. The rules changes for the 2024 cycle alter that calculus. No longer may the party strip a candidate who has campaigned in a rogue state of all of their delegates won in that state; they shall do that. And beyond the strengthening of the rules there, the DNC has also made the definition of the what constitutes campaigning more inclusive. Campaigning now includes filing to be on a ballot in a rogue state or not working to remove one's name from a rogue state ballot (where filing is not required and ballot access is more automatic). The new rules have also granted the DNC chair the authority to take matters a step further should candidates not not abide by these rules. The chair can prohibit candidates in violation of the campaigning rules from presidential primary debates sanctioned by the national party. 

Those are deterrents with some teeth that have implications for the candidates before and during primary season, not just at the end of it. The idea is to keep candidates out of rogue states in order to neuter the violating contests in those states. Under those circumstances, states theoretically would not want to hold rogue contests because the lure -- candidates and attention -- would no longer exist (or would at the very least be greatly minimized). 

Is the DNC committed to penalizing Iowa and New Hampshire if either goes rogue? 

Ultimately that will be a question better posed in the summer of 2024 as the conventions approach. But the DNC is serious about the candidate penalties (see rules changes for 2024) and fully stripping states of their delegates -- beyond the baseline 50 percent sanction -- is also on still on the table. Such a prospect was raised in the conversations about the calendar rules at the DNCRBC meeting that adopted the new calendar proposal

Rules matter. So do rules changes. 

1 Republicans had the same 50 percent penalty for states in violation of the RNC timing rules in both 2008 and 2012. However, the party strengthened its penalty for going rouge for the 2016 cycle; something the national party has had in place ever since. The super penalty strips a bigger state of all but nine of its delegates and smaller states of all but six delegates.

2 Honestly, this should not count against Kinnard. I had trouble enough tracking down information to even confirm my recollection of events. FHQ has some oblique references to the moves here and also here. Wikipedia has a footnote which leads to a piece on the DNC Credentials Committee vote, but sometimes one just has to go straight to the roll call vote on the nomination which shows a full Florida delegations of 211 and likewise a 157 delegate Michigan group.


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