Showing posts with label closed primaries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label closed primaries. Show all posts

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Legislative Odds and Ends from New Hampshire with 2024 Implications

There is obviously a long way to go but the first two weeks of the 2023 session in the closely divided state legislature in Concord have already produced some interesting bills. And it is legislation that would have some impact on 2024 in the state that traditionally holds the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Two in particular -- one from each side of the aisle -- have been introduced in the early going. 

1. Provable, positive steps from New Hampshire Democrats
FHQ has done a lot of talking about actions taken or not taken by New Hampshire Democrats in the time since the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) adopted a 2024 primary calendar proposal that would push the presidential primary in the Granite state back in the order for the upcoming cycle. But earlier in the week, I discussed the opportunities that New Hampshire Democrats may have to extricate themselves from the predicament in which the party finds itself. Taking those actions -- making provable, positive steps toward the goals set by the DNCRBC to retain their early calendar status -- might not keep the party from being penalized, but it might lessen the penalties. 

Legislation was offered last week by one Democrat that falls into that category. Rep. Barry Faulkner (D-10th, Cheshire) introduced HB 586 which would expand absentee voting access in the Granite state. Now, while it does not go as far as the sort of "no excuse" absentee voting that was voted down in the state Senate in 2021 (SB 47), the measure would expand the list of excuses to receive an absentee ballot to include health and safety concerns (beyond disability) and a "lack of convenient and affordable transportation." Clearly, that is a provable, positive step that moves toward the DNCRBC mandate for an early calendar waiver. But it ultimately would likely fall short and does nothing to change the date of the presidential primary, the heavier lift for New Hampshire Democrats.

That is not nothing, but it likely would not be enough in the eyes of those on the DNCRBC who will serve as final arbiters on the New Hampshire primary situation. 

2. A potential own goal by Granite state Republicans
On the Republican side, Rep. Mike Moffett (R-4th, Merrimack) and Rep. Joseph Guthrie (R-15th, Rockingham) introduced HB 101, legislation that would close primaries in New Hampshire to only those who affiliate with a political party. This is an age-old, intra-party question pitting pragmatists against purists that waxes and wanes over time but has surged in recent years during both the Tea Party and MAGA eras. While the phenomenon is not exclusive to the Republican Party, that has been where purists have pushed most often and most forcefully for closed primaries. 

But closing off primary participation would go against the grain in New Hampshire. The tradition of independents voting in primaries for offices up and down the ballot is storied, but has been part and parcel of the presidential primary process in the state for decades. However, this legislation does not just break with tradition in the Granite state, it comes at a particularly inopportune time. With state Democrats embroiled in a fight with their national party over the first-in-the-nation status of the New Hampshire presidential primary, Republicans in the state would be passing up a prime opportunity to potentially more easily woo independent voters in the 2024 presidential primary with the general election and the state's four electoral votes in mind. 

To close the presidential primary to only registered Republicans would be political malpractice in that light. 

Look, neither of these bills are likely to go anywhere. If the fate of the bill in the 2021 session is any guide, then Republicans in the state House are likely to balk at any expanded absentee voting measure (even a scaled down one). And although there may be some Republican support for closing primaries in the Granite state, it likely will fall short of unifying the caucus behind a bill that would essentially have the party cut off its nose to spite its face. Still, this is the sort of legislative wrangling that happens not just in Concord but in state legislatures across the country. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

On Democratic Party Rules Changes for 2020

UPDATE (7/25/16): The Democratic National Convention passed a rules package that included the the charter of a Unity Reform Commission to examine the rules outside of the convention before 2020.

Primary and caucus season is just a little more than two months old (with three months to go until the national conventions), but already people are coming up with ways to "fix" the process for 2020 and beyond. The Post's Greg Sergent recently weighed in under the headline "Here's one way the Clinton-Sanders brawl could end well". The premise? The Democratic presidential nomination battle could lead to delegate selection rules changes at the national convention in Philadelphia.

Well, maybe, only that is not really how it works. Meaningful change rarely comes directly out of the national convention on the Democratic side. Unlike their Republican counterparts, there is no baseline set of rules that emerges from one convention to guide the process (with some tweaks thereafter during the last two cycles) for the next cycle.

Instead, the Democratic National Committee through its Rules and Bylaws Committee has traditionally empowered a commission to reexamine the nomination rules and recommend changes to them in the time after the presidential election of one cycle. Those recommendations are then handed off to the Rules and Bylaws Committee to vote on and pass usually during the summer of the midterm election year between cycles.1

Nothing, then, really happens rules-wise at the Democratic National Convention.2 Sure, there is a report on rules from the Rules and Bylaws Committee to the convention, and said Committee meets immediately after the convention, but any rules tinkering takes place well after the convention (or it traditionally has in the post-reform era).

Heated battle or not during primary season, the Sanders campaign may have little leverage on this issue at the convention itself. The key will be the long game: getting surrogates on the Rules and Bylaws Committee who can affect change through that channel. This is the sort of thing that latent campaigns do during the rules-making phase; something the would-be Sanders campaign and allies failed to do in 2013-14.

Not to pick on Sargent, but he does go on to catalog a number of changes at which the party could look. And the list is made up of the usual suspects :
  • Eliminate superdelegates
  • Eliminate caucuses
  • Limits on the number of primaries on one day
  • Eliminating closed primaries
This always operates like a quadrennial deja vu.

It is the same list. Go ahead. Give the FHQ posts from the 2009-10 proceedings of the Democratic Change Commission a glance. Or look at the DCC's recommendations: 1) reducing the number of superdelegates by shifting add-on delegates out of the category and making them the PLEOs (Party Leaders and Elected Officials) that are now a part of the process and 2) developing a set of "best practices" for how caucuses should be run. One could also look at the scant deliberations of the Rules and Bylaws Committee in 2013-14.

The problem, as always, is that the national parties have only so much control over the presidential nomination process. The system started out and has evolved into a patchwork of overlapping national party rules, state party rules and state laws. In attempting to fix the perceived problems of any given cycle, the national parties have to navigate that patchwork. And they often run the risk of crossing the  Sununu line; that parties are better served by attempting to manage rather than control the component parts of the presidential nomination process.


Well, when state parties opt into state-funded primaries, they cede the power in most cases to set the date of that primary (see clustering issue above) or to determine who can participate in that primary (open vs. closed). And state parties, more often than not, opt into those state-funded primaries to avoid having to raise and spend money on an election rather than on other party-building exercises.

Eliminating caucuses means some states with some combination of Republican-controlled state governments, no presidential primary, a closed system and no means of funding a primary election have to somehow overcome all or some of those barriers to comply. Perhaps one could take exception with what Washington Democrats do: traditionally hold caucuses despite having a Democratic state government (in most cases) and a presidential primary option. Perhaps Democrats in the Evergreen state could be convinced to change tradition.

But what about a state like Maine or Wyoming or Iowa where there is a mix of state government partisanship and no primary system in place? Can the Democratic National Committee make Wyoming Republicans in change of state government institute a primary?3 Are they willing to foot the bill for that election if not? If they are unwilling, this is an unfunded mandate that would hypothetically force Wyoming Democrats to opt for the cheapest form of election for most state parties in similar situations: a caucus.

And what about this idea of reducing clustering? The national parties have attempted for a long time now to reduce frontloading on the presidential primary calendar. Both national parties have a fairly effective mix of rules and penalties to keep states in line, but the overall process is still pretty organic within a broader set of calendar guidelines. The motivation is still there to push to front; to cluster at the beginning of the calendar. And do not lose sight of the fact that the DNC currently has a bonus delegate regime in place to motivate later, subregional clusters of contests. That has been somewhat effective in 2012 and 2016, but has not rid the process of the motivation to move earlier in some states.

This is a thorny set of issues that involves state-level traditions that stretch back more than just a cycle or two and partisan divisions between state government control and the national parties. Very simply, the national parties have managed the nomination system to varying degrees in the post-reform era by deferring to the states on a number of issues to allow states to better tailor a plan that works for them but also within an overarching set of national party guidelines.

That is an institutionalized feature of the process that seeks to overcome a multifaceted coordination problem: nominating a presidential candidate within two diverse, big tent parties.

The problem with eliminating superdelegates is a little different. There is no overlap with state party rules or state laws, but nixing those unpledged delegates is an idea that requires superdelegates -- members of the DNC -- to vote to strip themselves of that power. It is not a non-starter, but that idea is a long way from being enacted (even if Sanders supporters sit on the RBC or a commission examining the rules).

The only addition to the list of perennial grievances is the handling of the debates. This is something that is not really codified in the Democratic Party rules. The RNC added debates-curtailing rules to their rulebook, but with mixed results. But even that can get pretty close to the Sununu line.

If one is placing bets on likely rules changes or additions, look to the debates issue. The others are more difficult to manage much less control.

1 That post-reform routine was disrupted after 2012. Rather than have a commission look at the rules and recommend changes, the Rules and Bylaws Committee handled that task directly.

2 It is right there in the Charter of the party. None of the rules-changing activity is confined to just the national convention and by practice it has happened outside it.

3 Yes, Wyoming legislators are considering a switch, but on their own, not as part of some directive from a national party.

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Michigan Republicans Vote Down Proposal to Switch to a Closed Caucuses System in 2016

During the Michigan Republican State Central Committee meeting on Saturday, May 9, the big news was the election to fill the state party's national committeewoman position vacated when current Michigan Republican Party chair, Ronna Romney McDaniel, was elected in February 2015. Perhaps more interesting was an effort that had been brewing in the lead up to the meeting to have the state party reverse course, switching to a caucuses/convention process closed to only registered Republican voters.

The State Central Committee voted in support of a resolution endorsing a March 15 presidential primary last fall. The actual move required action from the Michigan state legislature, which the party got earlier this year. However, the outcome in the legislature was a March 8 date. That left Michigan Republicans with an open primary as mandated by state law in the proportionality window as set by the Republican National Committee. That combination was mostly what the Michigan Republican Party wanted. The date was early enough, but will force them to proportionally allocate national convention delegates to presidential candidates based on the results of the primary. The party had last fall settled on a hybrid, winner-take-most system of delegate allocation.

On the openness of the primary -- who can participate -- the Michigan Republican Party has tended to defer to state law. And that calls for an open primary that leaves the door ajar not only to independents participating but also potentially Democrats. It is that latter conflict that partially gave rise to the proposal to restrict participation to just Republican voters. But as there is no effort in the hopper or on the horizon in the Michigan state legislature to close off the primaries to just partisans (voting in their own primary), the only move would have been to switch from an open primary to a closed caucus.

FHQ said "partially" gave rise to the switch push because the effort was supported and advanced by Rand Paul-aligned members of the State Central Committee, notably District 8 Republican Party chair, Tom McMillin. The grassroots organizing of activists that the Ron Paul campaigns have done over the last two presidential election cycles, it has been argued, potentially gives Rand Paul a leg up in caucus states. This is not a new idea. It has been discussed in the context of the probable Kentucky Republican Party switch from a primary to caucuses (though there are other factors driving that switch as well) and the more recent quiet RNC push to trade out caucuses for a primary in carve-out state Nevada.

The former would theoretically help Paul in his home state while the latter would hurt the junior Kentucky senator in a state where his father finished in the top three in 2008 and 2012.

The attempt in Michigan was to make a move similar to that in Kentucky. However, it was just an attempt at the State Central Committee meeting last weekend. The Michigan Republican Party Policy Committee tabled the proposal with no support but did resolve to study closing the process in future election cycles (Again, that decision is only totally in the state party's control if it switches to a caucus in the future or the state legislature changes the law regarding who can participate. Court challenges to the law by the party are also a possibility.).

Yet, that was not the end of the discussion. The issue was also brought to the floor of the State Central Committee meeting a well by McMillin. The discussion there was not all that different from the one in the Policy Committee. On the floor the proposal to close the nomination system needed a two-thirds vote of the 112 member committee, but supporters could muster only a handful of votes and saw the standing vote on the motion fail.

In the grand scheme of things in this 2016 Republican presidential nomination race, this maneuvering in Michigan will be little more than a footnote. That said, it is indicative of some of the behind-the-scenes efforts made by the possible and announced candidates, their campaigns and proxies on the state level. It is not unusual activity, but keeps popping up in the context of these caucuses versus primaries, pragmatism versus purism discussions within the Republican Party both nationally and in the states over the last handful of years. The extent to which the rules matter ebbs and flows, but political actors perceive them to matter and act accordingly to shape them.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Connecticut Republicans Strategize About Opening Primaries, Moving Presidential Primary Up

Neil Vigdor has the story at the Connecticut Post about Nutmeg state Republicans' short-term (move the presidential primary)/long-term (open primaries to independents/unaffiliateds) plans.

In Democratic-controlled Connecticut, the state GOP will need some help from across the aisle in the state legislature to make either happen.

A couple of quickie clarifications on this one:
  1. "Until 2008, both parties in Connecticut held their primaries on Super Tuesday, which fell in early February and drew visits from then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and future first lady Michelle Obama."

      Connecticut did not join Super Tuesday -- typically the earliest date the national parties allow contests to be held -- until 1996. And then, the primary was on the first Tuesday in March. It stayed there until the 2008 cycle, when the primary was moved to the first Tuesday in February. 2004 was a bit quirky too. Democrats caught up with an RNC that was already allowing February contests, but few states actually moved for 2004. Connecticut, like many states, waited until 2008 to react to that change.

  2. "In 2011, looking to create a regional primary with New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware, the General Assembly ended the tie-in with Super Tuesday. But the inability of the states to get on the same page for setting a date for the proceedings relegated the regional primary to April 24. By that point in 2012, Mitt Romney had all but wrapped up the GOP's nomination."

    1. This sequence is strange. New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware created a regional primary on April 24 for the 2012 cycle, but could not get on the "same page" to do it? FHQ would argue that four Democratic-controlled states opted to join perpetually-April Pennsylvania on that late April date, and they did it on purpose. Democratic states that were non-compliant under the new 2012 rules moved back much further on the calendar than Republican-controlled states. There may or may not have been ulterior motives involved. 

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing in Arizona Tomorrow

At least we're starting to get a clearer picture of what's actually happening within the Arizona Republican Party now. The resolution that is set to be voted on at the party's state meeting in Phoenix tomorrow is nothing more than a call for Republican governor, Jan Brewer, to use the proclamation power the state legislature granted the governor in the 1990s to position the Grand Canyon state's presidential primary in a more advantageous (read earlier and more influential) place on the calendar relative to other states.

In other words, this resolution, if passed, is in no way binding on the frontloading/primary movement calculus in Arizona for 2012. Here's a suggestion: do nothing. The primary is already scheduled in February (on the fourth Tuesday of the month). My gut tells me that some earlier February 2008 states will actually comply with the national parties' rules and cluster on the first Tuesday in March. That leaves a calendar similar to what existed in 2004: the exempt states followed by a handful of early February states, a relative lull with a contest or two on the remaining weeks of February and then a modified but less compressed Super Tuesday during the first week in March.

That lull period would be where Arizona would be positioned if the state government did absolutely nothing. Considering those earlier states would be states that would not only lose half their delegates -- given RNC rules -- but also be subjected to proportional allocation of delegates, it is close to a sure thing that the nomination would not be wrapped up, officially or not, before that point. Arizona could have an impact by doing nothing at all.

Spare us the non-binding resolution.

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More on the Arizona GOP's Potential "Move" This Weekend

Late last night it was reported that the Arizona Republican Party is set to approve a resolution at its meeting in Phoenix this weekend to keep its 2012 presidential primary in February. As we mentioned, though, this is interesting considering it would only take doing nothing in the state legislature to accomplish this. State election law in Arizona already accounts for a primary on the fourth Tuesday in February. The governor, furthermore, can use her proclamation power to move the primary even further up on the calendar to a more competitive date. And since Jan Brewer is still a Republican, this would not seem like too much of a roadblock. [CNN at least reports that Brewer has the final say, but that seems to render meaningless the potential move by the Arizona GOP this weekend.]

Why go the state party resolution route then?

That is the main question and it still not entirely clear to me, but it could have some significant implications at least for Democrats in Arizona if it comes to pass.

If the Arizona Republican Party passes this resolution this weekend, it likely means there will be no action from the legislature on changing the election laws regarding primary timing or who can participate. That lack of action on primary timing means that Democrats will be stuck with the February primary date which would be in violation of the DNC's rules on delegate selection. The alternative for Arizona Democrats is to foot the bill for a caucus (most likely) that will be scheduled at a time that fits the Democratic Party's rules (some time on or after the first Tuesday in March).

Needless to say, this potential move has far-reaching implications not only for the shape the overall primary calendar will have, but for the Democrats in Arizona as well.

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this post I made mention of Erin McPike's post last night that highlighted an attendant resolution that will also be voted on at the Arizona Republicans' meeting tomorrow. Though it wasn't clear in her piece, I said that the other resolution would close the 2012 presidential primary to all but registered Republicans. This second resolution is all the more curious in that circumstance because the presidential primaries are already closed to all but those registered with a party. Thanks to Richard Winger from Ballot Access News for the clarification. The intent of the subsequent resolution is to impact the primaries for offices other than the presidency. It is a completely separate issue as a result.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Links (12/10/09)

1. John Thune has your gubernatorial presidential aspirations right here. the Senate. The South Dakota senator is still FHQ's 2012 darkhorse of the moment. I still think 2016 is more likely, though. If Thune is anything, it's shrewd.

2. South Carolina Republicans are like Idaho Republicans: They want closed primaries in the presidential delegate selection races in the Palmetto state.

3. Local fare: Cal Cunningham's chances in North Carolina depend on DSCC investment. his primary race against Elaine Marshall first (to even have a shot at Richard Burr).

4. State of Elections has another great redistricting reform post up. Read away.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Links (12/3/09)

1. Remember the Idaho Republican Party's complaint? Well, they are moving forward with their court case to close their primaries:
By January 15, the Republican Party will present a summary of the evidence it will be presenting at the upcoming trial. This will include a copy of the expert report by one of the party’s witnesses, Michael Munger, who is a professor of political science and an expert in political parties. Then, there will be another status conference on January 26 to set the details for the upcoming trial.
FHQ might try and pull some strings and get a hold of that report if possible.

2. What exactly happened to those Chris Daggett supporters on November 3? David Redlawsk (at the Eagleton Poll) has a go at explaining it.

3. The Democrats got their man in North Carolina to challenge Richard Burr. We'll see how that turns out. They thought they had their man in 2002 with Erskine Bowles. That didn't work out well in 2002.

...or 2004. But FHQ is on the ground here in the Old North state and has a vested interest in a competitive race.

4. Also, notice that State of Elections (the blog of the William and Mary Election Law Society) has been added to FHQ's blogroll. Welcome State of Elections.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Purity Tests? Not for the NC GOP

There has been a lot of talk about true conservatives (think NY-23) and purity tests within the Republican Party lately. But what's been lost in all of this is a rare -- at least in terms of getting news attention -- instance of pragmatism. Late last week, the North Carolina Republican Party considered a proposal to discontinue allowing independents to vote in the party's primaries.
"Unfortunately there are times when independents are swaying elections to a candidate that is not as conservative as we would like," said Onslow County GOP Chairman Patrick Lamb, identifying moderates as people like John McCain last year and George H.W. Bush in 1988.

"We are not attempting to eliminate independents from the process. We absolutely need them," said Bob Pruett of Beaufort, chairman of the 3rd Congressional District committee, who supports the closed primary idea. "But we want to make sure that we have conservative candidates elected in our primaries."
Compare that sentiment to the line of argument that ultimately prevailed:
"History shows us that the passage of this resolution would not bode well for the goal of a Republican victory in 2010," state party Chairman Tom Fetzer wrote in an e-mail to executive committee members.

"All of us know at least one Conservative Republican – and probably many more – that have switched to Unaffiliated out of frustration with the national or state Republican Party," the three lawmakers [Phil Berger, Paul Stam and Eddie Goodall] wrote. "Are we sending these Conservatives the right message and encouraging them to return to the Republican Party by telling them they cannot participate in a Republican Primary and can only participate in the Democratic Primary?"
Obviously, there was a purist element within the NC GOP pushing this resolution, but they were voted down in the party's executive committee meeting this past weekend. Why? FHQ suspects that state party Chairman Tom Fenty is absolutely correct: with the state legislative elections coming up in 2010, North Carolina Republicans have an opportunity to win both chambers. Limiting the potential base, though, could have affected the calculus for attaining that goal (especially with unaffiliateds in the state growing by leaps and bounds).

Now, why, you may ask, is this any different than what FHQ discussed recently in terms of the Idaho Republican Party's efforts to end the Gem state's open primary -- for much the same reason? Why, indeed? Again, it is up to the state to decide the extent to which its primaries are opened or closed to independent and unaffiliated voters. The state of Idaho, as we highlighted, has allowed not only independents but partisans of the opposite party to participate in primary elections for both major parties over the last nearly four decades. But in North Carolina, the system is slightly different. Technically, the Tarheel state's primaries are closed to independents, but a change to the law in allowed the state parties to decide whether they would invite independents to participate in their primary elections. The North Carolina Republican Party began allowing independents in in 1988 with the Democrats in the state following suit in 1996.

And this not really an issue for the Republican Party in North Carolina to take lightly. The conventional wisdom after the 2008 presidential election was that Obama's organizational efforts during the primaries in North Carolina helped push the president over the top in the Tarheel state in November; turning the state blue for the first time since 1976. Getting independents to vote for you in the primary has the potential to go a long way for a candidate when the general election rolls around. The dynamic, though, has the potential to be different in a midterm election than in a presidential election.

Still, in the battle of pragmatism versus purism with in the Republican Party, pragmatism won out for once.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is the Idaho GOP Still After a Closed Primary?

From Ballot Access News:
Idaho is an open primary state and has never had registration by party. On primary day, any Idaho voter is free to choose any party’s primary ballot. Last year, the Idaho Republican Party filed a federal lawsuit, to force the state to give it a closed primary. But on September 4, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that the lawsuit requires a trial to determine whether it is true that voters hostile to the Republican Party have been voting in its primary. The Republican Party then said it would soon reveal its plans on how to proceed.

However, the party has not met the informal deadlines for revealing its plans for the trial. The Judge has set a status conference for November 30 to get an updated version of the party’s plans.

This sets off a series of questions. Usually, the courts yield to the parties on free association grounds, but it really is interesting to see how much this differs from state to state. In Idaho, the state Republican Party is demanding that the state government -- also dominated by Republican elected officials -- close the state's primaries. As the party argues, open primaries, like the ones held in Idaho for nearly four decades, potentially allow voters from outside the party to influence Republican nominations which by extension negatively impacts the party's freedom of association.

Why not, indeed?

What's interesting is that the same argument has been made in courts regarding open primaries. This movement in the courts -- at least on this particular question -- began with the 1986 Tashjian case before the Supreme Court. At issue in that instance was the fact that the Republican Party of Connecticut wanted to open up its primaries -- not close them as in the Idaho case -- but was prevented from doing so because of a Connecticut law, on the books since the 1950s, that kept primaries closed.

What did the Court decide?

Well, the Court sided with the Connecticut GOP: the law violated the party's rights to free association; specifically the party's right to invite -- in this case independents -- to vote in its nominating contests.

But this is a moving target, isn't it? Some states like Idaho or California have gone in quite the opposite direction. Faced with open primaries, parties in both the Gem state and the Golden state claimed that their free association rights were being threatened by partisans (and non-partisans, for that matter) of the other party. That the parties were unable to determine who would participate in its nominations was something Antonin Scalia, in the 7-2 opinion of the Court in the California Democratic Party v. Jones case, found to be "both severe and unnecessary."

That brings up an interesting distinction -- and there are several, actually -- between the California case and the one in Idaho. In California, all the major parties sued to have the blanket primary law invalidated. In Idaho, however, it is just the dominant Republican state party that is attempting to tear down the open primary system. The Democratic Party in Idaho could almost be considered a minor party in the state. And they could care less about the law simply because no or very few Republicans are crossing over to vote in the Democratic primaries. To top it off, the Democrats have often eschewed the primary as a means allocating presidential delegates; instead opting for a closed caucus on the state party's dime.

This, however, raises the biggest problem for the Idaho Republican Party in this case: the burden of proof is one the Republican Party. Their argument is that independents and Democrats could have undue influence (read: a moderating influence) on Republican nominations in the state. Proponents of the current open primaries law have simply said, "Prove it." In other words, how have nominations been negatively impacted by the inclusion of Democrats and independents in the process?

That's where this Idaho case is currently. It's stuck with the Idaho Republican Party trying to determine the extent to which Democrats and independents have made Republican nominees any less Republican/conservative. If Idaho Republicans want a closed primary or a closed nomination process, they are either going to have to do what the Democrats have done at the presidential level (Though, truth be told, Democrats in Idaho use a caucus as a means of keeping out Republicans and limiting, through a caucus, who participates and decides how delegates are allocated. See Meinke, et al. (2006) for more.) or just deal with it.

For now, though, it doesn't look like this particular case is going anywhere.

Read more about the Idaho case here and here.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Could Open Primaries Actually Help the GOP in 2012?

Conservative talk radio host, Hugh Hewitt, had RNC chair, Michael Steele, on his show yesterday and they got into a discussion about the 2012 primaries and the potential for idle Democrats to turn the tables and employ Operation Chaos in the Republican presidential nomination process. Hewitt sees this as a real problem for the GOP in 2012, but I'm not so sure. [In fact, I don't know that these complaints aren't a complete contradiction. But I'll get back to that in a moment.]

First of all, which states even have open primaries or caucuses? In 2008, there were 17 states with an open primary rule on the books and another six states that were semi-open (allowing only Republicans and independents to vote). In the latter category I'm including states like Ohio where the enforcement of the rules that call for voters to vote in the same party's primary as they voted last time are lax.

Well that's about half the country, right? Perhaps Hewitt has a point. Maybe, but we also have to consider when a primary or caucus is being held. Unless the GOP in 2012 is divided in a way similar to the way Democrats were in 2008 (and that's certainly possible), then Super Tuesday is likely to decide who the Republican presidential nominee will be. If, then, a state falls after that point, being opened or closed won't really matter. All that really does is remove Idaho's open primary and the semi-open primary in North Carolina from the equation. I could also strike off Mississippi, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont, but since the most likely outcome of the reform efforts underway in both parties (see posts related to the Democratic Change Commission and the Republican Temporary Delegate Selection Committee for more.) is that the February activity from 2008 gets moved to March in 2012, then those states will be part of a massive group of contests.

That said, what would Democrats need to know to be able to make some noise on the Republican side in 2012? If Democrats with nothing better to do, decided to cross-over and vote in open (or semi-open) primaries, the first bit of information they would need is the identity of the frontrunner. It would also be helpful if said frontrunner was also the Republican candidate seen as the best possible candidate to run against President Obama. Those are the conditions where Democrats-turned-Republican primary voters would have the maximum impact. In essence, they would know who to vote against; just as Republicans cross-overs had the choice of Clinton or Obama in 2008.

The more likely scenario is that there is a nominal frontrunner, making the strategic end of things more difficult for would-be cross-over "Republicans." In other words, the earlier in the process it is, the more likely it would be to have an uncertain outcome. Uncertain outcomes make strategic voting, especially en masse, that much more difficult. Faced with that situation Democrats would either vote for the worst possible candidate, but simultaneously run the risk of having no impact or vote for someone who had a chance of winning the primary contest in question but does the worst against Obama head-to-head.

In the case of the former, envision a scenario where Democrats were idle in 2008 and opted to vote for someone like Duncan Hunter in the New Hampshire primary. I can't see a situation where Democrats outnumbered Republicans in a cross-over vote. The best/worst case scenario (depending upon which side of the aisle you're on) would see Democrats make up approximately 20% of the primary electorate. [Too high? Too low? Sound off in the comments section.]. Even if all those Democrats voted for Hunter, that wouldn't really make much difference. If that figure is layered in with the 2008 New Hampshire primary results, Hunter would have placed third and had no impact. Democrats would have been better served staying home and voting in their own uncontested primary (uncontested in the sense that we are assuming Democrats are crossing over because their nomination battle is either decided or uncontested).*

The alternative would have that faction of Democrats choosing from among the possible winners of the Republican contest, and preferably one who would not do well against their nominee. Let's assume again that Obama was already the Democratic nominee by the time New Hampshire's primary rolled around and that a pick the worst candidate strategy had been eliminated as a possibility for Democrats crossing over. Who do the Democrats vote for? The odd men out among the list of viable candidates at that point were Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson. McCain, Romney and Giuliani could have attacked Obama from the middle better than either Thompson or Huckabee.**

If that's the case, though, wouldn't either of those two have been palatable to the Hewitt crowd; at least more so than, say, McCain? There appears to be a disconnect between choosing "one of our own" and choosing someone who is electable among this group of Republicans. It is an age-old question, but one that seems unanswered in this case. If the answer is, "we want one of our own" (a social conservative), then holding open primaries really doesn't seem to make that much difference. Democrats would actually help Republicans reach that goal; they'd be better off in the general election for their efforts. If hijacking of the nomination by Democrats is a real concern, then, it isn't because they'd select someone like McCain, but because they'd help select someone who social conservatives like, but couldn't get elected.

[Such a coalition isn't unheard of. African Americans and Republicans across the South have worked together on redistricting plans following the last couple of Censuses. The result was that African Americans got an increased number of majority-minority districts and Republicans got more districts of their own. In the process, Democrats lost representation in Congress which, on its face, was perhaps somewhat counter to the interests of the overwhelmingly Democratic African Americans.]

Just for an open discussion/thought experiment, let's discuss how the 2008 Republican nomination would have played out if Obama ran uncontested and Democratic primary voters behaved rationally, as described above: selecting someone who could win, yet fared the poorest against Obama. Here's the 2008 primary calendar and here are the actual results of the primaries to reference. The comments section awaits.

*For Democrats to vote in the New Hampshire primary, though, they have to register as Republicans ahead of time; not on election day. Plus, another factor here is that if the Democratic race was uncontested, all the independents would flock to the Republican contest. That would advantage McCain.
**The Real Clear Politics averages for all the candidates are only marginally different in hypothetical match-ups against Obama in 2008. Huckabee did worst, but essentially trailed by the same margin as both Giuliani and Romney. McCain did best and Thompson proved difficult to locate.

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