Monday, January 30, 2023

Ranked Choice Voting in 2024 Presidential Primaries, Part One

One electoral reform that FHQ has touched on in the past and has increasingly popped up on the presidential primary radar is ranked choice voting (RCV). And let us be clear, while the idea has worked its way into state-level legislation and state party delegate selection plans, widespread adoption of the practice is not yet at hand. 

However, there has been RCV experimentation on a modest scale in the delegate allocation process primarily in small states. And that has opened the door to its consideration on a broader scale elsewhere. States, whether state parties or state legislators, are seeing some value in allowing for a redistribution of votes based on a voter's preferences to insure, in the case of presidential primaries, that every voter has a more direct say in the resulting delegate allocation. 

That is apparent in legislation that has been proposed in state legislatures across the country as they have begun convening their 2023 sessions. Again, RCV is not sweeping the nation, as the map below of current legislation to institute the method in the presidential nomination process will attest. There are a lot of unshaded states. But if RCV was adopted across those states where it has been passed (Maine), where it has been used in Democratic state party-run processes (Alaska, Kansas and North Dakota), and where it is being considered by legislators in 2023 then it would affect the allocation of nearly a quarter of Democratic delegates and a sixth of Republican delegates. That is not nothing. 

Granted, just because a bill has been introduced does not mean that it will pass. If one has followed FHQ (or the legislative process anywhere) for a while, then this observation should not come as a surprise. Bills to shift the dates on which presidential primaries occur are frequently introduced, but often fail. Take Virginia and ranked choice voting as an example. Of the four RCV bills filed in the Old Dominion, half of them have already been effectively killed in committee. Now, one of the remaining two could still become law, but the odds, given the failures to this point, do not necessarily portend success.

So, if none -- or, at best, very few -- of these bills become law, then why does any of this bear watching, especially at a site that tracks changes to the presidential primary calendar and delegate selection process? 

The answer lies in the impact RCV could have on the delegate allocation process. Like most things with delegate allocation, changes are likely only to matter at the margins. But in a close nomination race, those margins can matter. 

Here is an example. Raymond Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic Party chair, told Politico in making a case for the importance of the first-in-the-nation primary there, that Joe Biden was everyone's second choice in the Granite state primary in 2020. Biden, of course, came in fifth in the contest; something that every recent calendar story on New Hampshire Democrats potentially losing their position notes. And folks, Buckley's statement was figurative. He did not mean that Biden was literally every voter's second choice. But if one were to take him literally and assume that RCV had been in place in New Hampshire for 2020, then Biden would have stood to gain a lot of ground. 

How much ground? 

If the RCV bill considered in the Granite state in 2019 had become law, then three candidates -- Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar -- would have cleared the 15 percent threshold in the first round tabulation. But those three only accounted for 70 percent of the vote statewide. Under RCV, the votes of the remaining 30 percent would be redistributed based on voter preferences for the other various candidates. If one takes Buckley's notion literally -- that Biden was everyone's second choice -- then all of those redistributed votes from candidates under 15 percent would have gone to the eventual Democratic nominee, turning Biden's 8.4 percent into nearly 30 percent and a victory. 

Yes, that is a tremendous exaggeration, but one intended to highlight the ways in which RCV can matter in the allocation process, whether rejiggering the order of finish or, probably more realistically, padding the stats of a would-be winner under the regular rules.  But that is why this is important.

Of course, that functional view of the effects of RCV omits some of the more political components of RCV in view of the reality on the state level. Most of the push for RCV has a particular partisan flavor to it. Legislation is being offered primarily by Democrats in mostly Democratic-controlled states. Two-thirds of the 21 currently active RCV bills have Democratic sponsors. Thirteen of those 21 bills have been introduced in states with unified Democratic control.

Republicans, on the other hand, have been less inclined to support RCV. There are a couple of Virginia bills that have Republican sponsors and a smattering of bipartisan efforts across the country as well. But that support has been limited, and Republicans have been far more successful in promoting bans on the use of RCV. Both Florida and Tennessee have prohibitions on the practice and South Dakota is considering legislation to go down a similar path. 

But while that partisan difference exists, any bills enacted would impact votes in state government-run primary elections, regardless of party. Neither national party has weighed in on RCV -- not in terms of rule making for or against the method -- and any ban instituted would not affect the way the allocation process has traditionally worked. Yet, laws like the RCV law in Maine affect both Democratic and Republican primaries that are funded and run by the state. RCV bills enacted in blue states will affect the Republican nomination process as well (if there is no state party discretion to opt out). That bears watching not just in Maine, but in Democratic-controlled states as well.

Most of the legislation is to establish RCV, and while some of those bills may be successful, most will likely fail. But that points toward a potentially expanded -- although perhaps only incrementally -- use of and experimentation with RCV during the 2024 cycle. 

A few notes on bills included and excluded from consideration:

1. The intent was to highlight legislation that would affect presidential primaries. That includes bills that would exclusively cover presidential primaries and those that would impact all or most primaries, including presidential primaries. 

2. FHQ was probably a bit more inclusive than necessary. A handful of the bills listed above while currently active, would not take effect until after 2024. The New York and Oregon legislation is that way. The 2022 New Jersey RCV bill that carried over to the second session in 2023 would not take effect until the January 1 twelve months following the point at which the secretary of state in the Garden state had determined all voting machines were operable for RCV. New Jersey and New York together account for a significant chunk of delegates on the Democratic side and none of those would be impacted by this legislation in 2024.

3. Some bills were not included. There is an RCV ban bill in North Dakota as well. But there is no state-run presidential primary in the Peace Garden state. Similarly, ban legislation that sought to prohibit RCV only in local elections -- as in Minnesota -- were also excluded. Finally, if RCV was tethered to a broader push to move to a nonpartisan primary like in New Mexico, then that was also left out. It should also be noted that Nevada was left unshaded on the map above. The state Democratic Party used RCV in the early voting portion of the caucuses in 2020, but not across the entire process.

4. Hawaii technically fits two categories on the map. Democrats in the Aloha state used RCV in their party-run primary in 2020, but have legislation that combines a switch to RCV and the use of a state-run presidential primary as well as separate legislation to establish a presidential primary and move to RCV in all elections (including any presidential primary that may be created).

Friday, January 27, 2023

The RNC Presidential Primary Debates Committee is Back for 2024

Lost in all the recent talk of the Republican National Committee (RNC) reaching out to a diversity of networks during the planning stages for presidential debates to come later this year was the fact that behind it all is a national party committee. 

The on-again-off-again presidential primary debates committee is back on again for the 2024 cycle. First written into RNC rules in 2014 for the 2016 cycle as the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates, the rule and the committee were scrapped for 2020. And both moves made sense at the times those decisions were made. With a wide open and competitive nomination race to replace a term-limited (Democratic) president on the horizon, it was sensible and shrewd for the RNC in 2014 to devise formal rules to dictate the direction of its primary debates, an increasingly visible if not important component of the invisible primary, for the 2016 cycle. But with an incumbent president seeking renomination in 2020, the standing committee became less necessary with only token opposition lining up to contest President Trump's grip on the nomination.
Yet, with the conditions of 2024 more likely to resemble those of 2016 than 2020, the necessity of a debates committee became apparent once again. There were not many changes to the rules adopted by the 2020 Republican National Committee before Rule 12 cut off the ability to amend them before last September. There were some. And one of them was to bring back the presidential primary debates committee for 2024. 

...with some important differences from the previous iteration

Here is a look at both rules side by side (from the Rules of the Republican Party):

[originally Rule 10(h), but later reordered as Rule 10(a)(10) for 2020 before being eliminated]
There shall be a Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates, which shall be composed of thirteen (13) members of the Republican National Committee, five (5) of whom shall be appointed by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and each of the four (4) regions shall elect two (2) members, one man and one woman, at its regional caucus at the RNC Summer Meeting in each even-numbered year in which no Presidential election is held. The chairman of the Republican National Committee shall appoint the chairman of the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates from among the members thereof. The Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall have the authority to sanction debates on behalf of the Republican National Committee based on input from presidential campaigns and criteria which may include but are not limited to considerations of timing, frequency, format, media outlet, and the best interests of the Republican Party. Each debate sanctioned by the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall be known as a “Sanctioned Debate.” Any presidential candidate who participates in any debate that is not a Sanctioned Debate shall not be eligible to participate in any further Sanctioned Debates.
[the new Rule 10(a)(11)]
If appointed pursuant to subsection (c) of this Rule, the Temporary Committee on Presidential Debates shall have the authority to sanction debates on behalf of the Republican National Committee based on input from presidential campaigns and criteria which may include but are not limited to considerations of timing, frequency, format, media outlet, candidate qualifications, and the best interest of the Republican Party. Each debate sanctioned by the Temporary Committee on Presidential Debates shall be known as a “Sanctioned Debate.” All presidential primary candidates shall also agree in writing to appear in only sanctioned Primary and General Election debates. Any presidential primary candidate who does not agree in writing or who participates in any debate that is not a Sanctioned Debate shall not be eligible to participate in any further Sanctioned Debates. 
[emphasis FHQ's]
[1] The subsection (c) clause that now begins the rule refers to the RNC chair's power to form committees. That is a significant substitution because it rids the national party of the need to constantly tweak the rules every cycle dependent upon whether an incumbent Republican president is seeking reelection. If the chair has the discretion to create committees, then there is no need to continually craft and re-craft rules to deal with what will inevitably be a recurring issue. To wit...

[2] In addition, the committee in future versions will be temporary (if formed under the chair's discretion at all) and not a standing committee as it was in its previous iteration during the 2016 cycle. There is no need for a standing committee, but there is some regular and recurring need for a committee to deal with this subject.

[3] The next difference between the 2016 and 2024 versions of the rule is notable. The list of criteria the committee will consider before finalizing rules governing the presidential primary debates process has been enhanced to include candidate qualifications. While a polling threshold was used in 2016 to differentiate between those candidates who qualified for the main event debate and those relegated to the secondary debate, that was something that was not a formal part of the rule for the 2016 cycle. The standing committee (and the RNC itself) at the time filled in that detail. However, by formally adding candidate qualifications to the calculus, the RNC process comes more in line with how the Democratic National Committee (DNC) handled things under competitive conditions for the 2020 cycle. Granted, what constitutes "candidate qualifications" remains undefined as of now (and will remain so in the rules), but the temporary committee will no doubt again fill in that detail.

[4] Another facet of the 2024 rule that is new also borrows from the 2020 DNC process. Only, the Republican rule for 2024 takes it a step further. Republican candidates, by rule, will have to sign a pledge to participate in only debates "sanctioned" by the committee. Like the 2020 DNC process, that applies to presidential primary debates. Unlike the Democrats four years ago -- or Republicans eight years ago, for that matter -- that pledge will also apply to the eventual nominee and his or her participation in general election debates. Following the RNC's 2022 split with the Commission on Presidential Debates, there is some question as to whether the party will, absent some negotiation, participate in general election presidential debates. The temporary committee now has the power to sanction (or not) those debates. And candidates who sign the aforementioned pledge will presumably have to abide by that in the fall of 2024. Of course, the eventual nominee will likely have some significant say in whether he or she participates in those debates in the same way that a presumptive nominee has a say in his or her convention. 

[5] Finally, there is a whole section on selection of the committee in the 2016 version of the debates committee rule that has been stricken from the 2024 version. Ultimately, the chair has discretion over the creation of the committee, but under the current rule, there are no clear parameters concerning the size and selection of the membership of the temporary committee. In 2016, the RNC chair had five selections of thirteen with the remaining eight given to the four regions into which the RNC divides states and territories. Now, not only does the chair have the power to form the committee, but also has the ability to select its entire membership. This likely means little for the remainder of the 2024 cycle. The committee has already been chosen and has begun acting, reaching out to media outlets and considering borrowing DNC-type thresholds. Of course, there could be a new RNC chair after the 2023 RNC winter meeting, but it is unlikely that a new chair would disband the current panel and re-form it with the new chair's stamp. It would be unlikely but not impossible since the rule is silent on any transition to a new chair. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Michigan Senate Passes February Presidential Primary Bill

After being introduced two weeks ago, SB 13 -- the legislation to shift the Michigan presidential primary to the fourth Tuesday in February -- sat awaiting placement on the Michigan state Senate calendar for consideration on the floor by the full body.

Thursday was that day. 

Companion Super Tuesday Bill Introduced in Hawaii House

Another bill to establish a presidential primary in Hawaii and schedule it for Super Tuesday in 2024 has been introduced in the state House in the Aloha state. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee Extends Waiver Compliance Window for Georgia and New Hampshire

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) met remotely on Wednesday, January 25 to consider extensions for Georgia and New Hampshire to comply with the national party's proposed calendar for 2024. In order to attain waivers to appear in the early calendar slots reserved for them, Democrats in Georgia and New Hampshire must either complete the requirements put before them by the DNCRBC or show provable, positive steps toward their completion by June 3, 2023.

In Georgia's case, Peach state Democrats must get some buy-in from Republicans in the state who control the scheduling of the presidential primary. There are ways of getting there with Republican help -- the Georgia secretary of state's office has set the criteria -- but it will likely take the DNCRBC bending a little on the president's vision for the calendar adopted in December.

But Georgia did not come up much in the context of the conversation among DNCRBC members. Instead, much of the period in which the floor was open for comment was dominated by the roadblocks obstructing New Hampshire's path to compliance with the waiver mandates and the reaction in the Granite state to the DNCRBC's adoption of the calendar proposal. DNCRBC member from New Hampshire, Joanne Dowdell, delivered the familiar arguments that have made the rounds over the last month from the Granite state. Her's was a simple recitation of the facts. Basically: New Hampshire Democrats are stuck; stuck between a state law that places the decision on the presidential primary's date in the hands of the secretary of state and a Republican-controlled state government with a demonstrated lack of interest in changing either the primary scheduling law or adding no-excuse absentee voting. Folks outside of the New Hampshire Democratic Party organization in the state may be more agitated and use more inflammatory arguments as this process continues, but the state party itself will likely continue along the above lines. 

What is likely to be the dug-in position of the DNCRBC, if not the DNC, with regard to the ongoing New Hampshire situation is something voiced by DC DNCRBC member, Mo Elleithee. His contention was that New Hampshire has not over the course of the last five decades been the first contest in the primary calendar order. In fact, the Granite state has been second and has had that position protected by the DNC (explicitly starting in 1984). The current plan continues to protect that (second) position and asks that New Hampshire share the space with Nevada. 

Of course, that is the crux of the problem. New Hampshire Democrats cannot comply with that. ...if they intend to operate under the state law. Unmentioned by Dowdell was any potential alternate course the state party could take to select/allocate delegates and come into compliance with a calendar plan that will not be fully adopted until June at the earliest. The DNCRBC may be trying to nudge New Hampshire Democrats in that direction, but they may not find a receptive audience. To move to an alternative is to undermine the very state law that protects the New Hampshire primary. The incentives just may not be there to move Democrats in the Granite state from that position.

But they and Georgia Democrats -- and the DNCRBC -- now have until June to figure all of that out. 

The DNCRBC unanimously adopted the Georgia and New Hampshire extensions with all 25 members present on the call in support. That means that these two waiver extensions extend past when initial draft delegate selection plans are due to the DNCRBC for review on May 3. Additionally, the new June 3 deadline for Georgia and New Hampshire to comply is around nine months later in the cycle than when the DNC has in the past finalized the calendar rules/waivers. That is not exactly time lost for the 55 other states and territories to prepare and finalize their plans (with DNCRBC approval), but it does leave some important particulars about the Georgia and New Hampshire primaries -- their dates -- unresolved. That affects state-level preparation for those contests but also impacts the candidates. 

Now that means little if President Biden opts to seek reelection and runs largely unopposed. But this process could bleed over into the Republican nomination race. It will not affect Republicans in New Hampshire. The secretary of state will schedule the presidential primary for some time seven or more days before any other contest that is not Iowa. Likely sometime in January 2024. Yet, if Georgia can be slipped into the end of the pre-window (and that takes a while to play out on the Democratic side) that could affect Republican candidates' preparation for a pre-Super Tuesday primary in the Peach state if not a soon-to-follow Super Tuesday. Granted, that is likely to factor into Republican decision makers' thinking on helping Democrats out with this plan.  

The bottom line is that the DNCRBC took a rather unprecedented step -- leaving this unresolved until the late spring of the year prior to the presidential election -- but that underscores how serious the panel is about finalizing the president's calendar plan as close to its initially presented form as possible. 

Delaware as a Pre-Window Calendar Stand-in on Standby? On Threats, Substitutes and Calendar Shake-Ups

It was reported in the time after January 5 that Delaware was being used as a cudgel to help the DNC/White House nudge New Hampshire Democrats closer to compliance with the president's primary calendar plan adopted by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) in December. As Jake Luhut wrote at The Daily Beast then: 
"The proposal? Not only should South Carolina go first, but if New Hampshire won’t acquiesce to the Democratic National Committee’s demands, Biden’s home state of Delaware should also leapfrog New Hampshire as further punishment."
Well, Delaware "leapfrogging" New Hampshire into the pre-window of the Democratic primary calendar would not exactly be "further punishment." January 5, after all, was the deadline that South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia and Michigan -- the states granted contingent waivers to go early in 2024 at the December 2 DNCRBC meeting -- were given to show progress on state-specific goals toward the calendar changes called for in the adopted proposal. New Hampshire was obviously given a list of requirements that were, to put it mildly, a tall order considering Republicans control the levers of power in the state (and thus the ability to change anything to do with the first-in-the-nation primary). The Delaware threat was less a threat and more a reality. If New Hampshire Democrats cannot meet the requirements for the waiver they were conditionally given in December, then they will not have a waiver at all under DNC rules for 2024. Delaware is not the "further punishment." New Hampshire Democrats not getting a waiver like every other year following the 1980 cycle is. Actually, that is the punishment. "Further punishment" will likely come from the DNCRBC should 1) the DNC adopt some version of the president's calendar proposal at its February winter meeting and 2) New Hampshire Democrats continue to strike a defiant pose on the first-in-the-nation primary thereafter.

But why Delaware? 

Yes, it is President Biden's home state. And while that may be part of the calculus for those in the White House, it is not the only part or even the main part of the thinking. 

Like New Hampshire, Delaware is small. Retail politics would be just as possible there as they are in the Granite state. 

Both states lag the national average on the Census Bureau's diversity index (61.1%), but Delaware (59.6%) is less than two points shy while New Hampshire (23.6%) falls nearly 40 points short. 

However, unlike New Hampshire, Delaware is no presidential battleground in the general election. There are some tradeoffs on that front in view of campaign advertising/spending. Swapping Boston media market buys to advertise in New Hampshire for Philadelphia buys to target First state primary voters is an interesting exchange. The former has the benefit of priming New Hampshire primary voters with the general election in mind, but the latter would hit voter not only Delaware voters but Pennsylvania voters ahead of a primary in the Keystone state and a fight for more electoral votes (relative to New Hampshire) in the general election there as well. 

Plus, what Delaware lacks in general election competitiveness relative to the Granite state, it makes up for in feasibility of movement. New Hampshire cannot comply with the likely DNC rules and may or may not try to find alternatives in the end. A Democratic-controlled state government in Dover can and likely very happily would bend over backwards to work toward a pre-window presidential primary if granted a waiver by the DNCRBC. 

But FHQ tends to agree with the anonymous Democratic strategist who questioned the optics of an earlier Delaware primary in the Daily Beast piece:
“I don’t know what value that adds. It’s not a demographically diverse state, it’s not a significantly cheaper media market,” the strategist said. 
“I don’t know if the University of Delaware is gonna become the new Saint Anselm, which is probably the best analogy, but I just don’t see the point,” they continued. “There’s nothing to this that makes this more valuable, and the tourism argument for early primary states is overblown. The TV one is the strongest, because it’s the most sustained form of revenue for these states.”
All of that aside, DNCRBC member, Elaine Kamarck, said it better this past summer after the panel had heard the early primary pitch from the Delaware delegation. Basically, a president has nothing to gain and everything to lose in a home state contest that is first in the order. At best (for the incumbent president), no one shows up as with Tom Harkin in Iowa in 1992. In that case, Delaware would be little more than a beauty contest first primary that most candidates would skip. At worst (again, for the incumbent president), other candidates do show up and either win outright or relative to what would be low expectations. In that case, Delaware would win, but the president would not. 

Of course, Kamarck's comments were about Delaware as the first contest to which Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), as a part of the state's delegation before the DNCRBC, countered that Delaware was not vying only for the first spot, but for any one of the available slots in the pre-window. And maybe Kamarck's rules apply in that situation -- a slightly later early Delaware presidential primary -- or maybe they do not. It could also be that President Biden, with or without a pre-window Delaware primary, runs largely unopposed in 2024 and that this whole effort is not to secure his renomination but geared more toward a paradigm shift in how the pre-window part of the calendar is devised every four years. 

And that is kind of the thing. Viewed through the lens of a White House seeking renomination in an environment where it is largely unopposed is the sort of confluence of conditions a national party would need in place to make any big change to the beginning of the presidential primary calendar. 

Well, that and said national party would have to be willing to take on Iowa and New Hampshire. The DNCRBC, before the president weighed in, seemed willing to shunt Iowa out of the pre-window. But the president's input added New Hampshire to that mix. Both directly and indirectly.1 Again, the DNCRBC set a difficult set of criteria before New Hampshire Democrats. But they have a chance at an early window waiver (just not one in the position they want or that they could comply with, they would argue). They could give an inch, but have not. Yet. And New Hampshire Democrats may concede nothing. They seem willing at this point to let this play out, take their punishment (if the DNC can enforce it), and try to live to see another cycle in 2028 with a new membership on the DNCRBC.

But all of this -- pushing South Carolina to the first spot, nixing Iowa, trying to bend New Hampshire to the calendar change, substituting Delaware (or Iowa back) into the pre-window, or even adding Georgia and Michigan -- comes with trade-offs. That gets lost in all the post-January 5 chatter about New Hampshire. 

Yes, there is something to be gained by opening up the pre-window to any state that wants to pitch their virtues to the DNCRBC every four years. That gives the national party the flexibility to add and subtract states based on the criteria the DNCRBC has leaned on this cycle. If Nevada, for example, becomes less competitive in general elections, then add Arizona. If Georgia elects more Democrats to statewide office (like secretary of state), then replace South Carolina with the Peach state. If New Hampshire becomes more diverse (in addition to being a battleground), then keep it around or officially add it back. That flexibility is, in the abstract, a good thing for the national party. ...if it can overcome the start-up costs and establish it in the first place.  

However, there is something lost in that transition and it is not just tradition. The continuity of Iowa and New Hampshire every cycle was (and is in the Republican process) arguably a good thing as well for the national parties and for the candidates. There has been certainty there, and with that certainty comes knowledge, or if not knowledge, then an understanding about the rhythms of the nomination system; how it works. And that is true even when the first two states are not well aligned with the overall constituency of a party's primary electorate. 

The path of least resistance for the DNCRBC this cycle would have been to leave well enough alone -- as has almost always been the case for national parties with incumbent presidents seeking reelection -- and just add Michigan to the end of the four state lineup that has existed in the Democratic presidential nomination process since 2008. Iowa and New Hampshire are not perfect fits for the party, but they have the infrastructure in place to dependably go first. Well, maybe not Iowa after 2020. But even after that, there would have been an even greater asterisk placed by Iowa and would continue to place one on New Hampshire. Again, as FHQ has argued elsewhere in this space, the results in those two contests are discounted in the Democratic process. Voters know they are not representative of the broader party. The media knows it and discusses the results in that context and that affects how candidates approach and, afterward, talk about those two contests.

And Raymond Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, even talked about a version of this in his recent conversation with Politico, saying basically that New Hampshire winnows the field and sets up a state like South Carolina to be decisive. That has not been untrue. And if that is the case, then why mess with a system that, on some level, works?

Mainly, the answer lies in the fact that the current system with the same old calendar was no longer tenable to the president, major parts of the DNCRBC and likely DNC. The DNCRBC did adopt the calendar proposal with just two dissenting votes -- the two members from Iowa and New Hampshire. And the reactions from folks of color on the panel, from members to the DNC chair, spoke volumes about the meaning of the proposed change. 

That is why some version of the president's plan will be adopted next month in Philadelphia. It has been a process that has involved trade-offs with the same old calendar and will likely have some more as the DNCRBC and the rest of the party seeks to fill out the rest of the pre-window lineup should there be vacancies created by a rogue New Hampshire. Perhaps that will be Delaware. ...or perhaps not. Maybe Georgia cannot get there. Maybe it can. Things remain in flux as the party heads into its winter meeting.

1 The president's proposal directly hit New Hampshire by not placing the presidential primary in the Granite in the first position on the calendar. But it indirectly knocked the state by erecting a significant set of barriers for New Hampshire Democrats to successfully win a pre-window waiver.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Legislation to Alter Electoral Vote Allocation Introduced in Nebraska

Nebraska shifted away from a winner-take-all allocation of electoral college votes for the 1992 cycle and efforts have been continually mounted ever since to return to that method. None of them have been successful, including legislation from the 2021 legislative session that died in committee. 

But that has not stopped another bill from coming forward in 2023. Senator Loren Lippincott (34th, Central City) has become the latest to attempt to tackle the issue following a cycle in which the Cornhusker state again split its electoral college allocation between Democratic and Republican slates. LB 764 strikes all language from current law that references any distinction between at-large and congressional district electors. It further compels electors -- all five of them -- to cast their electoral votes for the presidential and vice presidential candidates with the highest number of votes statewide.

In eight presidential election cycles since the institution of the congressional district allocation, Nebraska electors have split just twice with the second congressional district around Omaha going for the Democratic candidate in 2008 and again in 2020. That frequency has been enough of an issue for similar legislation to have come up now at least six times, but not enough of a problem for the state to move back to a winner-take-all allocation. 

Perhaps 2023 will be different. LB 764 awaits action in the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Sunday, January 22, 2023

On "The People of New Hampshire vs. Joe Biden"

Politico's Ryan Lizza recently sat down with Ray Buckley, the longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chair, for a conversation about the fallout in the Granite state since the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) adopted President Biden's presidential primary calendar proposal back in December.

This is a really fascinating conversation with a few items that were new to me in the context of this brewing back and forth between New Hampshire Democrats and the national party. But it was a conversation that, given who was on the other end of the line, was focused on one side of that back and forth. That is both understandable and fine. 

What was perhaps less so was the number of times Lizza dipped into the well to use phrases like "Biden screwed you" or "Democrats betrayed New Hampshire." There was nothing in this conversation that backed those notions up, even with a New Hampshire-centric focus. And I get it. This is an important story. Well, FHQ thinks so anyway. But primary calendar stories are inevitably not clickbait. Trust me, they are not. So Lizza tried a bit too hard to play to his audience -- Buckley -- and/or to spice up a story that, again, while important, lacks a natural spice. 

Again, I get it. 

And fortunately, Buckley, for his part, never took that "betrayal/screwed" bait. In fact, the story Buckley told about the period leading up to the DNCRBC decision on the calendar proposal underlined that. He described to Lizza how the New Hampshire congressional delegation had met with Biden on the Monday before the president's letter to the DNCRBC members -- the one first revealing the calendar proposal -- on Wednesday. Buckley said that Biden on that Monday thanked the four members of the all-Democratic New Hampshire delegation for their points (on the Granite state primary and the 2024 calendar) and gave no indication of what was coming. He did not, in other words, thank them for their points defending the first-in-the-nation primary and make any promises that that would continue. 

Now, FHQ will argue, as it had elsewhere in this space, that what set expectations high for New Hampshire dodging the bullet again in 2024 was that the conventional wisdom that had developed before December 1 was that the Iowa caucuses would be nixed and all the other pre-window states -- New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in that order -- would move up and room would be made in late February for a midwestern alternative (Michigan) before Super Tuesday in early March. That was the reporting. Basically, that New Hampshire would shift into the very first position, not just the first primary position. But that was the reporting without one major component: the president had not weighed in. Biden ultimately did provide input on the eve of the DNCRBC meeting on December 2. One will excuse New Hampshirites for suffering from whiplash after going from thinking the primary was safe one day and knowing they were in for a battle with the president/DNC the next. 

But seemingly no assurances were made that New Hampshire would retain its position in the primary calendar order. It is just that the president held his input on the calendar until the very end. But betrayal? Screwed? The record really does not reflect that.

However, that is small(er) potatoes in the full context of what is actually going on between the White House/DNC and New Hampshire Democrats on the issue of the Granite state's 2024 presidential primary. The biggest shortcoming throughout the whole conversation was the omission of the rules as they will exist with respect to punishments in the 2024 cycle. Lizza and Buckley continually cited part of the rules with respect to rogue state contests. That, in New Hampshire's case, if Democrats in the Granite state conduct a primary before the February 6 slot set aside for them in the newly adopted calendar proposal, then the party would lose delegates to the national convention.1 That ground has been covered both in this conversation and elsewhere. 

But neither Lizza nor Buckley made mention of the penalties for candidates who campaign in states with rogue contests. The same DNC rules that have been enhanced for the 2024 cycle. That those candidate penalties were ignored was particularly glaring in light of the emphasis Buckley placed on advanced planning by past Democratic incumbent presidents. The chair made a point in his conversation with Lizza to link how both Bill Clinton (in 1995) and Barack Obama (in 2011) set up shop in New Hampshire in August before the primary and the subsequent success New Hampshire Democrats had in general elections in those cycles. It is a valid point. 

Yet, under the newly adopted rules -- rules that have been finalized for 2024 other than the calendar portion of them -- candidates cannot campaign in a state with a rogue contest. Otherwise, such a candidate would forfeit any delegates won in that primary or caucus. Under those rules, candidate Biden cannot campaign in New Hampshire in or ahead of 2024 if the presidential primary in the Granite state is not on February 6. The broadened definition of campaigning in the 2024 DNC rules includes setting up shop in New Hampshire in the way Buckley described. That also answers 1) why Biden cannot file to appear on the New Hampshire primary ballot -- that is "campaigning" too under the definition -- and 2) why Biden could not appear/campaign in the state until after the primary (whenever it may be).

Those are important facts about the contours of the current divide between New Hampshire Democrats and the White House/national party that never came up in the conversation. And again, it is a glaring omission. More so, when one considers the hypothesis that dawned on Lizza midway through one of his questions late in the conversation: that it would be better for New Hampshire if Biden ultimately did not seek reelection. In other words, there would be an open and competitive Democratic nomination race in 2024 that would early and often bring candidates back into the Granite state. 

Not necessarily. 

Now, there are not a lot of delegates at stake in New Hampshire, a reality Lizza raised at least once. Are candidates going to care that they may lose out on a handful of delegates that would only have gotten them a tiny fraction of the way toward the total needed to continue to be competitive for, much less clinch, the nomination? Would the potential win -- even a win in a "state-sponsored public opinion poll," even in a state where the results on the Democratic side are already heavily discounted because of demography in the state in the best of times -- outweigh those delegate penalties on candidates? 

In the case where Biden is running for renomination and is an advocate of a change at the top of the calendar? Yes. Yes, candidate Biden would care. If this DNCRBC-adopted calendar proposal is successfully adopted by the full DNC in early February, then the president will not be in the Granite state to organize for November 2024 until sometime after the likely January 2024 New Hampshire primary. Those will be the rules. The president will follow them. ...whether some "mechanic from Arkansas or Oklahoma" runs and wins in New Hampshire or not.

However, perhaps things look different if Biden does not seek reelection in 2024 and a bunch a prospective candidates mull whether to campaign (in violation of the rules) in a rogue New Hampshire. Maybe. But that way peril lies for prospective candidates. Take the case of Michigan in 2008 under a set of DNC rules where national party had the option to strip candidates of any delegates won in a rogue contest. Some candidates like Hillary Clinton decided to stay on the ballot of the Michigan primary. Others, like Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson, opted to remove their names from the ballot. The Florida and Michigan situation was already messy in 2008 without that wrinkle.  Having to determine an equitable way to allocate delegates after the fact in a rogue contest where some candidates were on the ballot and others were not was not easy, and New Hampshire Democrats would be signing up for that role in a cycle where DNC rules now require the stripping of those delegates from candidates. Memories of Florida and Michigan in 2007-08 alone may be enough to deter some candidates in an open Democratic presidential nomination race in New Hampshire in 2023-24. And that is without considering that the New Hampshire results are already discounted in the press and by the Democratic primary electorate because of its lack of diversity. 

Folks, this is not a slam dunk for New Hampshire. Things may be better for Democrats in the state if Biden opts not to run, but they will not necessarily be markedly better. Candidates running against the national party may be more inclined to take a chance. But what does that get them? A feather in the cap that may work with anti-establishment voters in subsequent states. Who fits that profile when voting starts in 2024 may be a majority of the Democratic primary electorate, but it is not now. 

Look, this calendar shake up remains a gamble for Biden and the DNC for the reasons Buckley cited. But New Hampshire Democrats are gambling too, gambling that the old rules of thumb will once again apply in 2024. And it just is not clear that that is the case in a cycle when New Hampshire, for the first time since 1980, is likely not directly protected by DNC rules.

Again, this is a great conversation between Lizza and Buckley. If you are interested in the 2024 calendar machinations like FHQ is, then you should listen to it. But take it with a grain of salt. Take it with a grain of salt because it is 1) understandably New Hampshire-centric and 2) it does not fully account for the rules as they will exist for the 2024 cycle. 

And those rules should be given some attention. 

1 And yes, the delegate reduction is something that would happen outside of the control of New Hampshire Democrats. The state party is in control of neither the governor's mansion nor the General Court -- the legislature -- in Concord. Of course, neither Lizza nor Buckley spent any time discussing alternate routes New Hampshire Democrats could take to comply with the proposed DNC rules outside of utilizing the presidential primary option. But again, that is understandable given the framing of the story/conversation.

Friday, January 20, 2023

New Hampshire Senate Moves to Further Protect First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary with Constitutional Amendment

In a move to further legally enshrine the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, the New Hampshire state Senate has introduced a concurrent resolution to create a constitutional amendment.

Hawaii Bill Would Establish a Presidential Primary

The Hawaii state legislature convened earlier this week for its 2023 session and wasted little time in prefiling legislation to create a presidential primary in the Aloha state.