Friday, January 20, 2023

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. 

Rep. John Mizuno (D-29th, Kamehameha Heights) sponsored HB 342 which would establish a presidential primary in Hawaii for the first time and schedule it for the second Saturday in May. Additionally the measure calls for the chief elections officer, the chairperson of the Hawaii Elections Commission, to conduct a feasibility study to ascertain among other things how other states have made the transition from caucuses to a primary system of allocating national convention delegates. 

This current legislation echoes a pair of bills that were active and failed during the 2018 session. It is not clear how much the sentiment has changed if at all among Aloha state legislators in the intervening years. However, Hawaii is one of the last caucus states in the Democratic presidential nomination process and the only fully Democratic-controlled state without a state-run presidential primary option for 2024. Hawaii Democrats did hold a party-run presidential primary in 2020, an April contest that shifted to an all-mail process once the Covid-19 pandemic hit. 

The intent of the attendant feasibility study is understandable, but the timeline for change overall is less apparent. There is, for example, no deadline by which the study is to be completed. This suggests that the presidential primary may be established for the 2024 cycle on the second Saturday in May and that the study would recommend changes -- date, process for accommodating a Democratic primary and Republican caucuses, etc. -- for the 2028 cycle and beyond. Otherwise, it would potentially be a quick turnaround to conduct the feasibility study, report it back to the legislature and have the state House and Senate make any tweaks to the newly established primary for 2024 before the Hawaii legislative session wraps up its business in May. 

Granted, the legislative process will also have something to say about whether, how and in what state this bill becomes law in 2023.

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