Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Whitmer's Signature Sends Michigan Presidential Primary to February 27

The new Democratic-controlled Michigan state legislature made quick work of SB 13, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) wasted little time on Wednesday in signing it once it hit her desk. 

And with that, the measure shifts the presidential primary in the Great Lakes state up a couple of weeks to February 27 for the 2024 cycle, in line with the proposed primary calendar adopted by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) in December. That calendar is due to be voted on by the full DNC later this week. 

However, there remain a couple of lingering questions in this move. 

The first is that even though SB 13 has been signed into law by Whitmer, it does not take effect now. And that is based on the fact that there was not supermajority support for the change in the state Senate. Majority Democrats were unified in favoring the move, but Republicans stood en masse against it. And without Republican support, the measure fell short of a constitutional requirement for supermajority backing to take immediate effect. That will likely force Democrats in control of the legislature to adjourn the session at least 90 days before February 27. Legislation passed without supermajority of support in the Senate does not become effective until a 90 buffer following an adjourned session has passed. It is a complication, but likely a minor one at the end of all of this. 

More problematic is what this presidential primary date change does to Republicans in Michigan. There is just one presidential primary for both parties, and a February 27 presidential primary is noncompliant with Republican National Committee rules. It falls too early -- before March 1 -- and would subject the Michigan Republican delegation to the super penalty in 2024 if the state party opts to allocate delegates based on the primary. One fix is for Republicans to lobby Democrats in the legislature to create and fund a separate and later presidential primary that is consistent with RNC rules. But the budgetary hit from an additional Republican presidential primary election is likely enough to sink the chances of that plan. 

Another fallback option is for the Michigan Republican Party to opt out of the February 27 presidential primary altogether and select and allocate national convention delegates based on a caucus/convention system that does not run afoul of national party rules. That skirts sanction but comes at a cost. A caucus/convention process would come with lower participation overall and be less likely to motivate and organize a broad group of voters with the general election in mind. Participation and penalties aside, it could also be that the mode of delegate selection -- primary or caucus -- could also potentially impact who or which types of candidates win the Michigan presidential nomination contest in 2024. And as the Michigan Republican Party struggles after the 2022 midterms, the type of contest could become a further point of contention. 

So yes, the Michigan presidential primary will shift to February 27, but that will not be the end of the story in 2023.

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