Monday, March 11, 2013

Is South Carolina's First in the South Primary Vulnerable in 2016?

The short answer is no, but it is a bit more complex than just that.

The better place to start may simply be to ask why FHQ is posing this question in the first place. Over the weekend two former South Carolina Republican Party chairmen -- Barry Wynn and Katon Dawson -- penned an op-ed in the Greenville News under the headline "Don't lose the right to vote in GOP primaries". What prompted the piece was the current battle within the SCGOP (more so at the mass level than among state party elites) over the party's procedures for nominating candidates. On the heels of the 2012 state primary ballot being purged of a sizable number of Tea Party challengers, some within that faction of the state party have organized an effort to alter the state party nomination rules during the party's 2013 precinct reorganization. Now, what this movement entails is a shift from a primary election to a caucus/convention process as the primary means of nominating Republican candidates to a wide range of offices in South Carolina. Such a move is seen as a potential boon for candidates associated with well-organized factions within the state party that could, in turn, dominate a low turnout caucus/convention system.

That led to Mr. Wynn and Mr. Dawson sounding the alarm of not only that potential for what would functionally be voter disenfranchisement, but also the impact the overall shift may have on South Carolina's first in the South presidential primary. In their words, the primary may be "put at risk".

The reality is that the South Carolina presidential delegate selection event is probably going to be just fine. The same sort of thing happened in Oklahoma in 2009 after Ron Paul-affiliated activists within the Oklahoma Republican Party made inroads in the party during the 2008 delegate selection process in the Sooner state. A year later in 2009, the very same group attempted to install one of its own as state party chair and shift the means of delegate selection from a primary to a caucus. That effort failed. That does not mean that the Tea Party effort  in South Carolina is doomed. There is a reason a pair of former party chairmen are taking to the local op-ed pages. After all, Paul-aligned groups have been successful at wresting control of Republican Parties in several states in 2012 (see Iowa and Nevada for example). However, both are presidential caucus states with primaries in place for nominations to other offices. Neither have sought to end those latter contests. Furthermore, no state has been successful yet in making this change from primary to caucuses. It has been tried, but it has failed.

As for the first in the South primary in South Carolina, well, FHQ suspects that "threat" is being used to mobilize Republicans against the conventions proposal. But the nature of the threat is not particularly clear. What is vulnerable? The primary itself or the position on the calendar. Even if this switch was made, both national parties' sets of delegate selection rules protect South Carolina's position among the first four contests on the presidential primary calendar. And that protection is not conditioned by whether the contest is a primary or caucus.1 If we're talking about the primary itself, then, well, it was already at risk under the proposal.

The interesting thing about the presidential nomination process in South Carolina is how a switch to a conventions system would work out. If South Carolina Republicans opt out of the state funded primary, then the funds will be appropriated for only the Democratic contest in 2016. That is, it would only go to the Democratic primary unless there was a change in state law to sever the state funding mechanism that was instituted for the 2008 cycle. Before that point, parties funded their own primaries.2 A Republican-controlled legislature in South Carolina -- whether controlled by an establishment or Tea Party wing -- would likely not be open to that type of set up. In other words, the Democratic presidential primary would also potentially be at stake in all of this.

The ramifications of this potential shift are interesting, but there has not been a history of successful hostile take-overs of the nominating process like what is happening in South Carolina elsewhere. The primary likely is not in any jeopardy, and even if it was, South Carolina is not about to lose its position on the calendar as a result.

1 The Republican National Committee rules give South Carolina and the other so-called carve-out states added protection for the 2016 cycle and there has been no signal from the Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Committee that South Carolina will not continue to have a privileged position on the calendar in 2016. That said, the RBC has yet to begin its work on the rules that will govern the 2016 delegate selection process.

2 It is not as if the funding issue has been absent in discussions of the South Carolina primary.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Arizona Taps on the Brakes on 2016 Primary Bill

Scott Conroy has a nice piece of reporting up at Real Clear Politics connecting some of the same Arizona-Nevada dots FHQ pieced together earlier in the week. The most interesting addition to the discussion is the fact that the Republican National Committee saw fit to send a delegation to Arizona to discuss the legislation to anchor the date of the Arizona primary to the date of the Iowa caucuses in a meeting with its author, Arizona Rep. Phil Lovas (R-22nd -- Peoria, Glendale). Furthermore, following the meeting, Lovas opted to back off his bill for the time being.

Now, one may ask, "So what?" The 2016 presidential nomination process is three years away. The bulk of calendar jockeying that will take place for the cycle will be in full tilt in two years time. In other words, it is still early. In 2009, there were 13 bills introduced across ten states to shift the dates of 2012 presidential primaries. Only one was successful: the Arkansas state legislature voted to move the Natural state primary back to May.

Four years later, the activity at the state legislative level is not all that different. Thus far during the 2013 sessions, eight bills have been submitted to state legislative chambers in six states. Three of those eight bills are out of Missouri; a residual of the failed attempt in the Show-Me state to move the primary back for 2012. If any of those eight bills are to pass and be signed into law, Missouri is likely at the top of the list of likely movers. The state has to move back for 2016 to come back into compliance with national party rules. The rest just are not all that likely to go anywhere; not in 2013 anyway.

That is the story or seemed like the story in Arizona. Rep. Lovas' bill was filed just after the new year began, did not garner any real attention outside of Arizona and FHQ's world,1 and more importantly did not seem to have any support outside of the bill's sponsor/author.

Yet, the RNC saw enough of a threat in the bill to warrant a sit down with the Arizona representative. Whether it was precautionary or not, this is a proactive step on the part of the RNC. One of the things that FHQ harped on during all of 2011 was the seemingly gaping hole in communications between the national parties and state legislatures. State legislators either ignored the parties' delegate selection rules or did not understand them. National party outreach has not been all that necessary in the post-reform era, but has become so since Florida and Michigan in 2008. One could argue that this is national party intervention, but it would probably be better defined as a better flow of information/communication between those involved in the process. That is a good thing: everyone understanding (or at least having the information in order to start understanding) the ins and outs of the nomination process.

Still, what plagues the national parties is the fact that no matter what the penalties are, there are still states willing to flaunt the rules and take the penalties as they have existed until now. That has changed for 2016 with a stiffer sanction on the Republican side. As the 2013 state legislative session continue -- but especially as the process moves into 2015 -- that will be the test:

Are the new sanctions enough to stop states that have exhibited a willingness to break the rules to go early in the past?

1 That included New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner who raised the issue of the Arizona bill with FHQ on the side of the National Association of Secretaries of State winter meeting in late January.

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Maine in 2016

File this one under Things FHQ Missed During the 2012 Conventions.

As recently as January FHQ made the point that it was, entering 2013, still an open question as to whether legislators in Maine would pursue legislation to reinstitute a presidential primary in the state. Legislation passed in 2012 tasked the Maine Joint Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs with exploring the option and making recommendations about any further legislative action on a primary. That exploration was to have taken place between July and October 2012.

But nothing came of that process. The committee hearing that did take place late last summer showed no support for the transition from caucuses to a primary as the means of selecting delegates and registering presidential preference. In fact, as Scott Thistle of the Lewiston Sun Journal reported, the sentiment on the committee was overwhelming against any switch despite problems encountered during the 2012 Maine Republican caucuses:
“At this point, with the other things competing for our money, maybe this isn’t something we want to move forward with,” [Rep. Jarrod] Crockett [R-Bethel] said. 
“Ditto,” said Rep. Douglas Damon, R-Bangor. “I have had zero people tell me they support the initiative of a primary. Some states want it because they believe it creates revenue for the state. Maine has four [Electoral College] votes; they don’t feel there’s going to be any presidential candidates coming up here to spend money for that and the fiscal note for this is something that none of the people I spoke with want to support.”
A 10-2 vote against the primary option on the committee stopped any transition in its tracks. Furthermore, no legislators have gone against that recommendation during the 2013 session of the Maine legislature by introducing any legislation to the contrary.

Maine, for the time being it seems, will stick with nominating caucuses for 2016.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Amended House Bill Would Also Move Missouri Primary to March

Of all the states where legislation has been introduced and considered regarding the scheduling of future presidential primaries, Missouri has been the most active in 2013. Three bills now either directly or in amended form address the date of the presidential primary in the Show Me state. [FHQ has already discussed those direct efforts in the state House and Senate.]

However, a House-passed bill (HB 110) with an amendment to shift the date of the state presidential primary now sits in the Senate committee on Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections. Like the Senate bill already in that same committee, the amended House bill would change the date of future presidential primaries from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in February to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March (March 8 in 2016).

Interestingly, this House bill combines the primary move with some revisions to the language in the Missouri statutes dealing with vacancies to the general assembly and statewide offices. That was a combination that derailed the only bill that passed both chambers in 2011 and would have moved the 2012 Missouri primary to March (and into compliance with the national parties' delegate selection rules). Unlike the previously vetoed bill, the current legislation does not propose replacing the executive branch the ability to fill vacancies with special elections. Instead, that power still resides in the executive branch. The bill merely clarifies the gubernatorial power with respect to several statewide offices where there were gaps.

Governors and vacancies aside, legislation to shift the Missouri primary to March -- and presumably back into compliance with both national parties sets of delegate selection rules for 20161 -- has passed the Missouri House. The bill is not on the Senate committee hearing agenda at this time.

[A link to this legislation has been added to the 2016 presidential primary calendar here.]

1 That compliance issue is likely why there is as much legislative activity so early in Missouri to move the primary for 2016.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

More on the RNC Rules and Presidential Primary Debates

RNC Chair Reince Priebus was on with Hugh Hewitt yesterday and the rules of the presidential primary process were among the topics of discussion. The biggest news out of the interview is that the RNC Growth and Opportunity Project -- the five person group charged with examining the whys and hows of the GOP's 2012 electoral fortunes -- is set to roll out some of its findings and some recommendations on March 18.

Part of those recommendations clearly seems to be how the RNC will deal with presidential primary debates in the 2016 cycle. FHQ has already weighed in on this to some extent. But that was more a discussion of the party attempting to regulate the competition among state parties for and resultant number of debates. What Priebus and Hewitt talk about in their interview is something altogether different.  Hewitt even goes as far as framing the process as "mold[ing] the debates".

That is a much different proposition.

That is almost scripting debates, and truth be told, that is an even tougher goal to manufacture and regulate. The presidential election process already has scripted debates during the general election. No, those debates are not expressly scripted, but the candidates usually have a pretty good idea about what's coming in terms of the questions and have prepared for them. And still "accidents" happen. Ask Obama about Denver or McCain about his "that one" comment in 2008 or go on down the line about debate gaffes in the television era.

But the thing is, those moments really don't seem to drive the outcome of presidential elections.

And now the RNC appears to be proffering a series of hypotheses along these lines:
H1: Presidential primary debates create/drive up intra-party divisiveness.
H2: The media amplifies intra-party divisiveness.
H3: Intra-party divisiveness negatively affects that party's candidate in the general election.
All of these are reasonable hypotheses. They certainly merit some exploration. [And, mind you, the Democratic Party will also have to consider this very same issue in some way.] But they strike FHQ as incomplete if not ill-formed. All of this seems to hinge on the notion that these primary debates are creating an atmosphere that is not helpful to the national party's goal of nominating a candidate who can  in turn win the general election. Perhaps they are not helpful in that regard. Again, that is reasonable. But that also seems to gloss over several additional points or questions that are hugely important in all of this:
Q1: What if the intra-party divisiveness already exists?
Q2: What if it is not or has not been dormant or latent, but present all along?
Q3: Further, what if the very nature of the entire presidential primary process -- the battle to win contests, delegates and media attention -- is going to bring that divisiveness out with or without presidential primary debates? 
FHQ gets the intent of the media amplification hypotheses. But it seems to me that those things are going to come out (the media is going to amplify) anyway if they exist. Ron Paul supporters would have raised hell over the perception that a number of caucuses were handled unfairly, not to mention the treatment of their delegates in Tampa with or without debates. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich would have attacked Mitt Romney the very same way with or without those occasional national television platforms. And the media following along and reporting on the process would continue to have had the incentive to talk about those same divisions in the party -- divisions that also exist in the Republican caucuses on the Hill -- to the extent they were represented by voices (candidates) involved in the race. And they were represented. There were establishment/Tea Party/libertarian fault lines in the Republican Party before there were debates and there were always candidates who represented those constituencies.

The nomination process is a tough nut to crack for the national parties. There are a lot of moving parts involved (Debates are just one.), and the parties are constantly trying to define and regulate the best possible conditions ahead of time. Never an easy task. As I said above, the Democrats will likely examine this debates issue as well. I am hard-pressed to envision a scenario where it does not come up in the Rules and Bylaws Committee discussions. But the debates a factor that, while there is some hope for control (from the parties' perspectives), may not actually yield all that much benefit if the party is already divided.

FHQ is not saying that the RNC should not look into this issue; only that the benefits are not exactly clear. That said, the best way to test this is to change the rules and see how the process is impacted. But if the Obama presidency follows any kind of downward trajectory and/or the economy takes a turn for the worse over the next two to three years, the number and scope of Republican (or Democratic) primary debates won't matter a whole lot in 2016. That may even be true if the current conditions remain static in the interim.

Hat tip to David Drucker at Roll Call for passing this along.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Arizona + Nevada = 2016 Primary Calendar Uproar

Disclaimer: This is a thought exercise; nothing more, nothing less.

FHQ is not of the opinion that anyone should light the distress signals in regard to the 2016 presidential primary calendar yet. Yes, there have been a couple of provocative bills introduced in state legislatures out west. That adds to the intrigue that wild cards like Florida and Georgia represent. But folks, it is simply too early. Something may come of this legislation in Arizona and/or Nevada this session, but it is unlikely. Historically, state legislatures do not act on this particular issue until the year before a presidential election. There is more "urgency" then. But that is not to suggest that it cannot or will not happen in 2013.

[I'm not bullish on either bill passing for a host of reasons as I've alluded to in the past.]

Now, having said that, FHQ has given some thought to the combination of these primary-related bills in both Arizona and Nevada since news of the Nevada bill broke the other day. It really could be something of a nightmare scenario for the national parties and perhaps the nomination process in its current form. Let's game this out as if this is late 2015 and both bills are passed and signed into law in their current forms (presumably in 2013).

First, let's look at what that entails:
  1. Nevada would have a primary (and not a caucus) on the next to last Tuesday of January (January 19 in 2016) unless another western state schedules a contest prior to that point on the calendar. 
  2. Arizona would hold its primary on the same date as the Iowa caucuses as long as Iowa Democrats and Republicans are timely enough in their date selection in order to give Arizona elections administrators sufficient lead time (90 days) to prepare for the primary. Absent that buffer period, Arizona would hold it primary on the earliest possible Tuesday available to it after Iowa and with a 90 day window.
The easiest way of looking at this is that Arizona's date is dependent on Iowa's decision and Nevada's date hinges on whether Arizona ends up earlier than than the Silver state on the calendar.

Starting with Iowa, there is some need on the part of the state parties in the Hawkeye state to leave some caucus preparation time as well. However, unfortunately for those in Arizona, that window has not been as wide as 90 days during the last two cycles of calendar chaos.

In 2011, Iowa Republicans first signaled on October 7 that the 2012 caucuses would be on January 3. Ninety days from October 7 is January 5 (a Thursday in 2012). Had the Arizona bill been the law of the land in 2011-2012, Arizona would have held its primary not concurrent with Iowa, but on the same day -- January 10 -- as New Hampshire. [No, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner would not have chosen January 10 if Arizona already occupied that date.]

Four years earlier in 2007, Iowa Republicans waited even longer and Iowa Democrats longer still. The Republican Party of Iowa selected a Thursday, January 3 caucus date on October 16. Meanwhile, Iowa Democrats did not schedule the same January 3 caucus date until a week and a half later on October 28. Again, if the current Arizona bill was the law in 2007-2008, that 90 day clock could not have started until both Iowa parties had made decisions.1 If Arizona waited for Iowa Democrats' decision, the 90 day requirement would have pushed the Arizona primary to January 29; the next earliest Tuesday and the same date as the 2008 Florida primary.2

Now Nevada:
In the 2012 scenario above, Arizona would have preceded the date called for in the Nevada bill (next to last Tuesday in January). That would allow the Nevada secretary of state the ability -- actually, it would be his or her duty by law -- to shift the Silver state primary to a date before Arizona (as earlier as January 2 as long as it is not a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday). Since January 1, 2012 was on a Sunday, January 2 was a legal holiday in 2012. That would have provided the Nevada secretary of state with a range of dates between Tuesday, January 3 and Monday, January 9; all of which would have preceded a January 10 Arizona primary.

The 2008 scenario is less dramatic when Nevada is added to the mix. If Arizona had held a January 29 primary, then Nevada's next to last Tuesday date (January 22, 2008) would not have been affected. In fact, that actually would have been a later date than when the Nevada caucuses were held in 2008 (Saturday, January 19).

The impact, then, would have been minimal in 2008. Michigan was positioned as the next earliest non-carve-out state on January 15. Iowa and New Hampshire would still have likely ended up on January 3 and January 8, respectively (assuming that the dominoes fell in roughly the same order that they ultimately did in 2007). The only change is that Arizona would have been docked half of its delegates for having held a delegate selection event prior to the first Tuesday in February. The Grand Canyon state would have joined the others with that distinction in 2008: Wyoming, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina and Florida. All were sanctioned on the Republican side and only Florida and Michigan  were affected in the Democratic race (Arizona would have been along for the ride.).

In 2012, however, with Arizona and Nevada pushing into the first ten days of January, Iowa and New Hampshire would have been forced into 2011. That's monumental enough and serves a rough guide for 2016.

What about the implications these bills may collectively have on the 2016 primary calendar?

We can reverse engineer this:
At its simplest,3 the practical implication of the Nevada bill as law for 2016 (excluding Arizona for the time being) is that it pushes Iowa up to Monday, January 4. [See the footnote in the Nevada post from Monday.] If Iowa decides on that date later than October 6 (90 days prior to January 4), then Arizona could not have its primary on the same day as the Iowa caucuses. An Arizona decision can only be made once the date of the Iowa caucuses has been identified. And then it has to be 90 days from that point in time.4

The decision regarding the Florida primary has to be made by October 1 in the year before a presidential election according to election law in the Sunshine state. Everything else, then, would have to fall in place with the other states between that point and October 6 for Iowa Democrats and Republicans to settle on an official date by then. If 2012 is any barometer, then that is not likely to happen.

The state parties in Iowa are going to know to wait it out to avoid the Arizona threat. They, along with New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, will know that 1) Florida is in place by October 1 and 2) Arizona becomes less and less a statutory problem the longer they wait. That serves not only the interests of Iowa and New Hampshire, but of all four carve-outs. However, with Nevada stationed on the next to last Tuesday in January, the 2016 calendar still starts in early January for the third cycle running.

There are a couple of other things to bear in mind here:
  1. FHQ has not really mentioned party sanctions. Recall that the RNC rules would knock any non-carve-out holding a contest prior to the last Tuesday in February down to nine delegates plus the three RNC member delegates from the state. We won't know until 2015 whether this has proven to be an effective deterrent to would-be rogue states. Bills like the one in Arizona do give us some indication, but only if they are successful in the face of very likely having the penalties brought to their attention in some way by the national parties. 
  2. Also, Iowa and New Hampshire waiting it out as a means of protecting their status only works to a point. The decision-makers in Florida (members of the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee who will be named in 2015) will most likely -- one would expect -- be aware of the above possibilities. And they have the authority to schedule the Florida primary for as early as the first Tuesday in January (January 5 in 2016). They just have to do that before October 1, 2015. ...but under the realization that they will be hammered by the RNC delegate reduction in the process. 
Yes, this is all still about waiting on Florida no matter where these bills in Arizona and Nevada end up. Without knowledge of the Florida piece of the puzzle, there is still uncertainty about whether 2016 primary season kicks off in 2015. But we'll have to wait until the end of September 2015 for that answer.

Hurry up and wait.

1 An interesting question following on all of this what Arizona would do in the event that Iowa Democrats and Republicans held caucuses on different dates. There is no contingency in the Arizona bill to account for this possibility. And there is nothing in Iowa law that requires the two state parties to hold concurrent caucuses. It is in the two parties best interest to share the same date as a means of protecting the first in the nation caucuses, but it is not a requirement.

2 If the Arizona secretary of state had assumed in late 2007 that Iowa Democrats would choose January 3 after the Iowa GOP has selected that date, then the earliest possible Tuesday following a 90 day buffer would have been January 15. That was the date of the 2008 Michigan primary.

3 This assumes other states -- namely, Florida -- do not also enter the fray, thus affecting where South Carolina might end up on the calendar.

4 It strikes FHQ that it would -- not surprisingly -- behoove the carve-outs to wait as long as possible to decide on their respective dates to effectively deal with the Arizona (not to mention Florida) threat. Waiting, for instance, to the end October to decide would virtually eliminate the possibility of a January primary for Arizona.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Florida Makes First 2016 Presidential Primary Move

The Florida General Assembly only just convened for the 2013 session today, and already there is some legislative action regarding the 2016 presidential primary in the Sunshine state.

Representative Kevin Rader (D-81st, Boca Raton) has introduced legislation (HB 1349) to revise the mission of the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee (PPPDSC) and to return the primary election to the second Tuesday in March position the Florida primary occupied on every primary calendar from 1976-2004. By calling for a specific date on which the primary is to be held, the PPPDSC is superfluous. The committee was formed based on changes to Florida election law during the 2011 state legislative session to give the state more flexibility than the constraints of the state legislative calendar afforded. By ceding the decision on when the primary would be, the state legislature empowered the PPPDSC with the ability to make the date selection decision as late as October 1 in any year immediately preceding a presidential election. That allowed Florida to wait until most other states had decided on when their primaries would be. That had not historically been the case in Florida. To that point, the state was forced to handle this decision through the state legislature when it was in session (March-May); before many states had acted to shift the dates on which their contests would be held.

HB 1349 takes that power away from the PPPDSC and alters its name, membership and mission. With a primary date set in stone (in the legislation), the PPPDSC becomes the Presidential Candidate Selection Committee (PCSC). Instead of the governor, speaker of the state house and president of the state senate choosing three members to the committee, the committee will be comprised of the speaker, the president, the minority leaders of both state legislative chambers and the chairs of any party utilizing the primary as a means of presidential nomination. The PCSC would then be charged with the task of deciding which candidates appear on the presidential preference primary ballot for their respective parties. [Democrats on the committee would not have influence over the Republican candidates appearing on the ballot and vice versa.]

The bottom line on this is that the date of the Florida presidential primary in 2016 would become more certain under the provisions of this bill and thus less of a potential headache for the national parties and other states (both carve-out states and other would-be rogue states).

But there is one caveat to this. Democrats in both the Florida House and Senate have filed and introduced bills to move the primary back to March in state legislative sessions in 2009 (House version, Senate companion) and 2011 (House version, Senate companion). Representative Rader, the author of the 2013 bill, was the primary sponsor of the 2009 House version. As was the case in 2009 and 2011, both chambers of the 2013 Florida legislature are controlled by Republicans; Republicans who were not collectively interested in any of the previous legislation.

That does not bode well for the 2013 legislation, but it does give Florida Democrats some cover in possibly applying for a waiver from the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee to hold a primary on a non-compliant date should the primary be non-compliant after 2015.

As of now, there is no state senate companion bill.

[These changes are included on an updated 2016 presidential primary calendar here.]

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Nevada Bill Would Create January Presidential Primary

Word emerged late this afternoon (on the east coast) that a bill had been introduced in the Nevada legislature to create a new presidential primary in the Silver state and to hold it concurrently with the statewide primaries for state and local offices in January.

There is a lot to SB 212, so let's have a look at that and the implications (assuming the bill actually passes).
  • Contrary to the Twitter post from the AP's Sandra Cherub, this bill does not abolish the Nevada caucuses. However, there are provisions in the bill to push the precinct meetings back to a point on the calendar later than the proposed presidential primary. This is consistent with the delegate selection process in a great many primary states. The primary dictates how the eventual delegates are bound and the caucuses actually select those delegates in a multi-stage process leading up to the state convention. 
  • As FHQ mentioned above, the bill would position the new presidential primary (and concurrent primaries for other state offices) on the Tuesday before the last Tuesday in January. The last Tuesday in January has been the date of the Florida primary for the last two cycles (2008 and 2012). FHQ suspects this is a would-be attempt to pre-empt any move by the Florida Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee to jump the carve-out states at the head of the queue. 
  • The Tuesday before the last Tuesday in January 2016 is January 19 (the date as it turns out of the 2008 Nevada caucuses). That provides Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with a very small window of time in which to hold their respective contests. The Nevada shift from a caucus to a primary has the effect of switching the day of the contest from Saturday to Tuesday. That helps the other carve outs some. South Carolina could hold its primary on Saturday, January 16. New Hampshire could, in turn, conduct a Tuesday, January 5 primary, leaving Iowa with very little room in which to have its caucuses. Realistically, a Saturday, January 2 caucus would be the only workable, post-New Years date left (a possibility FHQ raised recently).1 
  • This bill, if passed, would also be a violation of the national party rules. There are no Democratic Party rules for the 2016 cycle yet, but if the rules from the previous cycle carryover, then Nevada would lose half of its delegates. Things on the Republican side, where there are 2016 rules, would be more interesting. Nevada would be subject to the super penalty (a reduction to nine delegates plus the three RNC members from the state) in the RNC rules if it held the only January contest and (importantly) was not forced to that date by another state encroaching on the carve-out states' calendar territory. If, however, a state like Florida does flaunt the rules on timing and forces the carve-out states to an earlier date outside of the February window called for in the RNC rules, Nevada would not be subject to the penalty. The language of the rule does not address whether a carve-out state takes the initiative to move to a position before February before being provoked. 
  • If a rogue state is a western state (defined as Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and/or Wyoming), then the Nevada secretary of state can move the primary to as early as January 2 on the condition that the primary not fall on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday. It is worth noting that there is no required buffer between Nevada and any other state, western or otherwise. But if a western state attempts to jump ahead of Nevada, the secretary of state can push the primary up to January 2. 
  • Additionally, the legislation also requires the state parties to, in electing delegates, to have that process "reasonably reflect" the results of the presidential primary. There is no definition of "reasonably reflect" in the bill. 
  • All five sponsors of the bill are Republicans (three Republican senators and two Republican members of the Assembly). Democrats control both legislative chambers in Nevada. That will have an impact on how far this bill goes. 
  • Nevada last held a presidential primary in 1996.
Depending on this bill's progress in the next few weeks, this will give Republicans at the RNC Spring Meeting in LA next month something to discuss when the Rules Committee convenes.

[These changes are included on an updated 2016 presidential primary calendar here.]
1 UPDATE: It should be noted that the 2008 and 2012 Democratic Party Delegate Selection Rules placed South Carolina in the fourth position on the calendar behind Nevada. The RNC rules do not specify any particular order to the carve-out states; only that they hold contests within a one month window prior to the next earliest contest. That would mean that South Carolina (Democrats and/or Republicans) could technically squeeze into a Saturday, January 23 spot. That, in turn, could provide some relief for Iowa and New Hampshire. The Granite state could occupy Tuesday, January 12, and Hawkeye staters from both parties could claim Monday, January 4 for caucuses. Of course, that is barely any change from the January 3 starts in both 2008 and 2012.

These moves would be dependent upon Florida following the rules of both parties enough that it does not end up on the last Tuesday in January for the third consecutive cycle in 2016. South Carolina Democrats may be fine with a Saturday, January 23 primary ahead of a January 26 Florida contests, but South Carolina Republicans have insisted on at least a week between the Palmetto state primary and the Florida primary (the next southern primary). That would make the January 23 date unusable for the SCGOP and trigger the scenario described above. See more in the comments section here and here.

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Massachusetts Bill Would Shift Presidential Primary to June

Toward the end of January a pair or bills were introduced in the Massachusetts Assembly that would affect the timing of future primary elections if signed into law. The first -- H 574 -- would leave the presidential primary on the first Tuesday in March while moving the primaries for state and local offices back further away from (general) election day. The second bill -- H 575 -- would shift both the presidential primary and the primaries for state and local offices, consolidating the two on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June.

Let's consider the motivation behind the two legislative items.

H 574 is intended as a remedy to what was a messy attempt by the Massachusetts General Court to bring the Bay state's election law into compliance with the MOVE act. As you may or may not recall from some of the 2011 discussions in this space, the federal mandates laid forth in the MOVE act were put in place as a means of insuring that military and overseas personnel had timely access to ballots. The federal legislation required a 45 day window before election day for ballots to have been delivered. That meant that a primary scheduled seven weeks prior to the general election -- as was (and still is) the case in Massachusetts -- was not compliant. In order to move into compliance with the federal requirements, the Massachusetts legislature added, as a one time fix for 2012, an amendment to an appropriations bill to schedule the state primary for a Thursday just 47 days prior to the November election.1

This bill would codify a move to the ninth Tuesday before election day in November, an additional two weeks that is MOVE act compliant. That gives the Massachusetts secretary of state's office just four days following the primary to certify the results, print the general election ballots and send them off to military and other overseas personnel. Additionally, that date continues to conflict with the tail end of a long Labor Day weekend.

In other words, there are some potential problems attendant to this particular piece of legislation.

As an alternative, Representative James Dwyer (D-30th, Middlesex) has once again introduced legislation by request (via petition) to consolidate the two sets of primary elections in June. Again, H 575 would solve the MOVE act conflict by moving the state primary from September to June and the consolidation would additionally save money that would otherwise fund two separate elections, not one. The drawback is that the bill -- one almost exactly like the bill that Dwyer introduced in 20112 -- would potentially pull the Massachusetts presidential primary out of the window in which the nomination decisions are likely to be made. In any event, it would be something of gamble for Massachusetts legislators (and the governor) to move the contest that far back on the calendar.

But that is exactly what will be considered in the Joint Committee on Election Laws; the next stop for both of these bills. No hearings for either bill are on the committee agenda at this time.

NOTE: Please see the changes triggered by these bills to the 2016 presidential primary calendar here.

1 The Tuesday of that same week conflicted with both the Democratic National Convention and fell just a day after the Labor Day holiday.

2 The only difference in the section of the bill referring to the presidential primary -- or rather the proposed consolidated primary -- is that the latest legislation calls for the primary to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June instead of the first Tuesday in June (as was the case in the 2011 bill).

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

2016 Rules: Penalizing Candidates for Participating in Unsanctioned Debates?

This idea has been floating around since the RNC Chairman Reince Priebus mentioned it to reporters during the RNC Winter Meetings in Charlotte in January. But now the idea of penalizing presidential candidates delegates for participating in primary debates not sanctioned by the Republican National Committee is making the rounds again in an item by Ramesh Ponnuru over at the National Review.

In my discussions with folks involved in the rules-making process in the RNC this debates/delegate penalty never came up. That is not to suggest that it has not come up or will not be pushed in some form at future RNC meetings. There is some sincere frustration over the perceived impact those primary debates had on the process within the party, but this seems more like an idea that is being floated more than a directive for change from the chairman.

That is the FHQ interpretation of it anyway. Here's why:

This is a tough [TOUGH] penalty to enforce. Again, that is not to say that it cannot be enforced, but it is something that is difficult to achieve. Functionally, it works more as a threat than an actual penalty. The Democratic Party had something similar on the books in 2008 (and 2012). The rule did not apply to debates. Rather, it was a penalty put in place to dissuade candidates from campaigning in states that violated the rules on timing. In 2008, that meant that none of the candidates could campaign in Florida and Michigan until the day after the primary in the violating state. If the candidates had campaigned in either state they would have lost any and all pledged delegates won in that primary (Rule 20.C.1.b).

But no candidate violated that rule. And that was probably fortunate for the DNC and its Rules and Bylaws Committee. Imagine if that question had been layered into the Clinton-Obama delegate fight in the waning days of primary season in 2008. [That threat also worked (or mainly worked) because Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina were in on it. Each collectively and effectively threatened the support for and to any candidates who campaigned in any states jumping the queue.]

Again, as in that 2008 case, it is easy to threaten to take away delegates from candidates, but tough to enforce without also potentially hurting the state parties, not to mention individual delegates, in the process. How does the national party identify which delegates get the axe? What is the percentage? How does the party account for the varying penalties that will occur based on different methods of delegate allocation? Furthermore, does would the RNC ultimately care? [The standing, yet unofficial, rule on the Republican side has always been to just leave it up to the states. But there has been an evolution to that since 2008. In other words, instead of "do what you want states" it is "these are the rules, do what you want/can states".]

Ultimately, this really is not a penalty on the candidates. Yes, the proposal targets them, but the reality is that this but the first step in how the RNC likely sees this playing out. As was the case with the Democrats in 2008, the likely intent is to in some way curb the incentives state parties and other groups have in scheduling these debates in the first place. If the state parties are rational, they will not want to hold/sponsor a debate if it means the party will potentially not have a full slate of candidates -- or at least the main competitors -- participate.

But what is the mechanism by which state parties or other groups acquire the RNC's blessing for holding a debate? Is there a mechanism at all or will early states (or perhaps competitive general election states) have the upper hand in planning and orchestrating such debates?

All we really have in Chairman Priebus' comments is the wisp of a plan. It is not fully fleshed out and as such is rife with unintended consequences.

FHQ should also mention one of the other talking points circulating in response to this already: That this is a rules change that seemingly advantages the supposed establishment candidate; something those in the grassroots and/or among the Tea Party would not necessarily be favorable toward. That response is apt, but focuses too heavily on the candidate-specific penalties instead of the state angle proffered above. Functionally, I think candidate angle is correct. A frontrunning establishment candidate is motivated to participate in as small a number of debates as possible. This just provides some institutional national party-based cover for that candidate or candidates. That, in turn, affects the calculus of those planning these debates in the first place. But again, that is the goal of this particular rule should it ever come to fruition.

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