Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Brown's Signature Sends California Primary Back to Super Tuesday for 2020

There had been some speculation in the time since the California state legislature passed legislation to move up the Golden state presidential primary for 2020 over whether Governor Jerry Brown (D) would sign the measure. That speculation ended barely a week after the legislature wrapped up its session by passing the primary bill.

Brown signed the bill -- SB 568 -- and in the process, moved not only the presidential primary into March but the statewide (midterm) primary as well.

Much has already said about what this move means. It means California shifts up 91 days on the calendar; bigger than any move during the 2016 cycle, and that the Golden state is joining an already crowded date on the 2020 calendar. Texas, Virginia and Massachusetts among others have been stationed there since at least 2016.

For more about what the move means, and perhaps more importantly, what it doesn't, please see our earlier primer on the subject.

Monday, September 18, 2017

California Primary Bill Passes Legislature. What It Means and What It Doesn't

On the final day the California legislature was in session for 2017, both chambers did what state legislatures often do at the close of a year: in short, legislate. The volume and pace of activity tends to markedly tick up as some bills make it through while others fall by the wayside. The final day in the Sacramento was no different.

But the bill FHQ was eyeing was SB 568, the amended legislation that would shift the California primary -- a consolidated presidential and statewide primary -- from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June to the first Tuesday following the first Monday in March. That is not a proposal without significance, but in its amended form was scaled back from the more ambitious version that was originally introduced in February.

[Rather than rehash all of the particulars of the evolution of the bill here, I will encourage readers to check out those links from earlier in the year.]

It was that simpler version that eventually came up for a third reading and vote in the Assembly on the day the legislature was set to adjourn. Heading in, the early handicapping projected passage, and that was to be expected given Democratic support of the measure and the party in control in both chambers. Moreover, a similar bill that originated in the Assembly passed the lower chamber on a near party line vote back in July.

The vote on SB 568 mirrored that earlier vote on AB 84, passing 55-21 largely along party lines. Three Republicans crossed to vote in favor of the legislation while only one Democrat defected to vote no. That sent the amended bill back to the state Senate for concurrence where it, too, passed -- 26-10 -- on the strength of mainly Democratic votes. One member from each party opposed the party positions on the vote.

At this point, it seems as if Governor Jerry Brown (D) will sign the bill into law (but even in the event of a veto, Democrats have supermajorities in both the Assembly and Senate and would need to keep either nearly all of their members on board or the same supporters together to reach the two-thirds threshold to override the veto).

Regardless of how it gets there, it looks like this bill will become law, and California will see its presidential (and statewide) primary shift up three months from June to March in 2020. What does it mean?

As it turns out, as others have gotten wind of this potential move, there has been no shortage of reactions to its impacts. Most have seen BIG STATE MOVING LOTS OF DELEGATES TO THE FRONT OF THE 2020 CALENDAR and have (over)reacted in predictable ways. Let's look at some of these reactions and offer some context along with some other notes of interest about the likely move.

Point I: 
Some have contended that a California move to the earliest date allowed non-carve-out states by the national parties will advantage homegrown candidates.

That really is not an unreasonable conclusion. Someone like Kamala Harris would seemingly have a leg up in terms of organizing in the state, raising money from donors -- big money and otherwise -- in the state, and has already won statewide there. That looks good on paper, but is also a hypothesis that has been tested in other states with other candidates in past cycles. And the results have been mixed, and anything but a clear advantage for home state candidates.

Jimmy Carter's nascent 1980 team was involved in nudging legislators in both Alabama and Carter's own Georgia to move their primaries to coincide with the Florida primary in March. The idea was similar: give a candidate from the region (the South) some early wins. In addition, the primary motivation for the Carter team was to counter early hypothetical wins by Ted Kennedy in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Of course, Carter benefited from but did not necessarily need that southern counterpunch after winning in New Hampshire.

And that is a decent lesson to take from this: unintended consequences. [Actually, that is a good lesson for anything involving the patchwork presidential nomination process.] Just because a candidate's home state has a well-scheduled primary or caucus, it does not mean that the move will pay dividends when it counts.

The reasons are quite simple.

First, those favorite sons and daughters have to survive to the point on the calendar on which their state primary is scheduled. California will be fifth among at least seven other states on March 3, 2020. Harris, Eric Garcetti or any other Californian vying for a presidential nomination in 2020 will still have to show some progress in the four likely February states, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Four losses and a month's worth of potential negative press/fundraising as a result is no way to go into what would become a do-or-die contest back home in the Golden state. And no, Rudy Giuliani, you cannot just skip those first states and put all your chips in the California -- or in the former New York mayor's case, Florida -- basket. One runs the risk of losing any positive reaction to good showings in the early states and/or the race and other (victorious) candidates passing you by.

Second, as mentioned above, candidates will have options other than California on March 3, 2020. Texas or Virginia or Tennessee or take your pick. Candidates can go elsewhere in search of delegates. The Democratic candidates in 2008 that survived to Super Tuesday steered clear of Illinois, for example. They ceded the state to Obama and focused elsewhere. The same was true of Arkansas on the same date that year. No one ventured into the Natural state either, yielding to Clinton (and Huckabee) there.

Third and alternatively, a home state contest could also be a net negative for their candidate(s). And that is not necessarily because there may be multiple Californians in the race. There will be winnowing during February that will likely guard against that (multi-Californian) negative. No, home state contests can become must-wins for their candidates or may be opportunities for opponents to deal a death blow to the campaign of those from that state by beating them there. Both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in Florida in 2016 comes to mind on both those points. Each had discussions about primary timing and allocation with Sunshine state legislators in the lead up to 2016, and both Bush and Rubio and their teams were thinking the same thing: an unpenalized, winner-take-all Florida primary sure would be beneficial.

On paper, well in advance of 2016 voting, it was. However, presidential nominations are not won and lost on paper. Few elections are. What looked good to Rubio's and Bush's teams during the invisible primary in 2013-15 looked far different in 2016. Bush did not make it to Florida on March 15 and the loss there knocked Rubio from the race. It takes time to organize elections, and in that time -- from date scheduling to actual election -- conditions can change and ruin even the best laid plans.

None of this is to suggest that California will not be a boon to one of its home-grown candidates. Rather, the point is to provide some context. It is much to early to come to any such conclusion with an level of confidence and that is mainly a function of how similar moves have played out in other states and for other candidates during the post-reform era.

Point II:
Others have argued that an early California primary could price out some candidates; that the financial burden will now be too great for all but the candidates richest in resources.

While there is a kernel of truth to that contention -- big, populous, expensive state newly early on the calendar makes it tougher on candidates -- another way of approaching the analysis of the impact is to look at how things would be in 2020 without California alongside seven or more other states in early March.

After all, there are already states in that position on the calendar for 2020 and California was not alone in 2017 in looking at moving its primary there. Legislation to move primaries to the beginning of March was also put forth in Arkansas and North Carolina this year (and in Nebraska in 2016). No, those efforts were not successful, but movement in the year following a presidential election is atypical. It just is not a priority for most legislators until the year before a presidential election. Additionally, the three caucus-turned-primary states for 2020 -- Colorado, Maine and Minnesota -- have a history of contests on that same date or in early March. It would not surprising to see those new primaries end up next to California. And Georgia would likely strongly considered setting its date there again if the remnants of the SEC primary remain on the date. [Georgia "Gardner-ized" its primary scheduling process ahead of 2012, allowing the secretary of state the power to set the date. It resets every cycle. More on this below.]

None of this even considers other states that may also look at this early March position between now and mid- to late 2019.

The point here is to highlight the fact that California has chosen a landing spot on the calendar that tends to be overly clustered with other contests and has typically allocated the most delegates of any date on the calendar in most cycles. That was certainly true in 2016. With or without California, the point on the calendar most often dubbed Super Tuesday was going to be super anyway. That creates an obstacle -- having to compete in many places at once -- for candidates that has usually separated the wheat from the chaff (if that winnowing had not already occurred to some degree during the preceding invisible primary and early contests).

Yes, California adds to that burden from a delegates and expenditures standpoint, but what is the marginal effect adding the Golden state to the mix on Super Tuesday? Do any more candidates drop out because of their -- California's -- addition to the line up? In real time, in the midst of primary season, probably not many. The effects will most likely be felt during the invisible primary, where much of the nomination maneuvering has transitioned to throughout the post-reform era.

Now, to be clear, this California move is endogenous to candidate decision-making. Prospective candidates may look at a slate of contests that includes California, Texas and others and say, "Hey, I can't compete with the fundraising (or endorsements, media attention, organization) of candidate X! I'm not running." But again, I am skeptical that those candidates would not arrive at the conclusion even if California still had a June primary in 2020.

And to be fair to Walter Shapiro, who wrote the article cited in the "Point" above, we really do not have a clear and specific answer to the the question of how Democrats will adapt to super PACs in 2020. The Republican experimentation in 2012 and 2016 likely indicates the limits, but the Democrats lag in that experimentation in the primaries phase following an uncompetitive race in 2012 and a battle in 2016 where super PACs and the Citizens United decision were negatively viewed.

Point III:
Still others have made the case in the lead up to these final votes on the California primary bill that California will provide a big net delegate margin that will effectively end the race for the Democratic nomination.

This is a problematic claim from at least a couple of perspectives.

First, that may be true, but not necessarily because of this California move. Again, legislators in the Golden state have settled on a date that is already moderately crowded with other contests and may get even more crowded between now and the end of 2019. Sure, that could lead to the effective conclusion of the nomination, but that depends on a lot of factors: invisible primary fundraising, media coverage and organization not to mention how the likely first four contests go in February. There is a scenario where someone runs the table like Al Gore did with a similar calendar in 2000. Such a scenario would likely see this hypothetical frontrunner build not a delegate majority but enough of a delegate advantage to render a comeback by a trailing candidate nearly impossible.

Absent that clear frontrunner running away with the nomination, however, the 2020 race is unlikely to see the race run its course by early March. That is even more true in light of the fact that the field of Democrats seeking the nomination looks like it will be quite large. There will be some winnowing in February, but it remains to be seen just how much the field will have shrunk by a Super Tuesday that includes California. There are and will be too many moving parts shifting between now and that point in the cycle.

Speaking of building delegate leads, the second reason California's presence on Super Tuesday will not be the decisive contest (via large delegate advantage) is the allocation rules. The Democratic National Committee has maintained a proportional allocation mandate on all states for every cycle stretching back into the 1980s. That affects the math. One candidate -- homegrown or otherwise -- is not going to waltz into the Golden state and leave with a win and nearly 500 delegates. California is not winner-take-all. Instead, it would take a significant victory in the state to produce what Matt Seyfang calls a net delegate margin large enough to offset potential delegate wins elsewhere for other candidates. Hillary Clinton has won each of the last two competitive California primaries by around 8 percent. That translated to a +38 delegate advantage in February 2008 and a +33 delegate margin in June 2016. That represents a significant building block in any race for delegates, but not a death knell to other candidates unless combined with many other wins across the Super Tuesday slate of contests. And to state the obvious, a 30-40 delegate advantage coming out of California is a far cry from a nearly 500 delegate margin under winner-take-all rules.

Point IV:
Further out on the fringes of social media, some are contending that moving the California primary is yet more evidence of the Democratic National Committee "rigging" the presidential nomination process.

The DNC is not rigging the nomination.

National parties create the overarching rules that provide guidance on the parameters around how states -- state parties and state governments -- behave in the process. The DNC has put in place limits on the timing of primaries and caucuses and has a mandate for proportional allocation (with minimal latitude provided to the states). Both parties have various ways of doing this, but both examine the rules from the previous cycle in the two years after a presidential election. In recent cycles, both parties have completed that process and approved new rules for the next cycle in the late summer or early fall of the midterm election year.

That gives the states about a one year window in which to respond with any tweaks to their previous scheduling, allocation or participation regulations, or to leave well enough alone if the previous configuration remains compliant with the national party rules regime.

If anything, California is acting perhaps too early by moving up its primary before the national party rules are complete for 2020. A change at the DNC level could mean that California is non-compliant and would have to again make legislative changes to the primary date. This is the main reason most states hold off until the year prior to the presidential election to make any changes. There is more certainty then in terms of the national party restrictions and how other states may be reacting to them.

And there is not any apparent evidence that the national party was in any way involved in the introduction of the legislation to move the primary up. For one thing, when frontloading and Iowa's and New Hampshire's carve-out positions on the calendar were being discussed at the first meeting of the Unity Reform Commission -- the group tasked with reexamining the Democratic delegate selection rules -- the California bill was raised. Sanders appointee, Gus Newport, mentioned in passing that he "thought" the California legislature was looking at moving its primary up to an earlier date. There was no reaction from the rest of the group; no angry denunciations, no commentary on how California has tried this in the past and its impacts, and no discussion of the implications for 2020 from Clinton or Sanders appointees. Nothing. And that was a day after one of the bills in the Golden state passed through its chamber of origin. It is not that the URC not responding is evidence that the DNC was not intervening in California. Rather, what was noteworthy at the time is that no outrage was expressed over it.

If anything the existing DNC rules -- directly or indirectly -- constrained the legislative actions in California. The bill that now heads to Governor Brown's desk for consideration began in a much more provocative form. The original legislation that passed the state Senate called for moving the primary to the third Tuesday in March, but with the added provision that the governor could shift the date up even further onto the heels of Iowa and New Hampshire. Under a hypothetical scenario in which the California governor opts in 2019 to move the primary into February, said primary would be non-compliant and thus open the state up a 50 percent cut to its delegation.

But that provision disappeared in late August and in its place was a more convention move to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March that, more importantly, would be compliant with the DNC delegate selection rules that are likely to carry over to 2020.

Of course, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (and later the full DNC) could change that in reaction to this move in California. The party will have the time to do that, but whether the inclination is there is another matter. There are a few Californians in the DNC that may balk at such a move.

But the reality of this likely shift in California is that it has been a self-interested maneuver aimed at increasing the state's influence in the process. Many state actors have sought as much many times in previous cycles. And that is something the DNC is hands off about unless a move violates the parties rules (see Florida and Michigan, 2008).

Point V:
Finally, some have argued that a California move will draw or has in the past drawn other states forward on the 2020 calendar.

This is trickier to tackle. The process is obviously complex as all of the above indicates. It should also be said that from a superficial angle, it makes sense to reason that if a big state moves up, others will follow. FHQ has even done that. However, when we do those exercises hey tend to be in the abstract with some historical examples to back it up.

The California move to late March for the 1996 cycle brought Oregon along for the ride, but that sort of intra-cycle call and response was unusual then. Yes, the majority of southern states coordinated a move nearly en masse to early March for the 1988 cycle, but prior 2000 most of the movement happened in a more independent (uncoordinated) fashion and between cycles rather than within them. There are exceptions to that -- the Great Lakes primary of mid-March 1996 or the aforementioned Oregon shift that same year -- but that began to change in 2004 and 2008.

States, then, reacted to California's 1996 move in 2000. California actually reacted to its 1996 move in 2000 by moving up from late to early March. So there was both intra- and inter-cycle reaction to California's double move.

But California's impact on the de facto national primary that developed for 2008 is being overstated by Politico in the article cited above. Democrats aligning their timing rules with the Republican National Committee by allowing February contests in 2004 set the stage for the formation of the 2008 calendar. There were 17 Democratic contests in February 2004, seven of which were on the first Tuesday in February. An additional four states moved to the first Tuesday in February before 2007. That is 21 February states that were either going to repeat February contests by law in 2008 or had a history of them in 2004.

Then add in wide open contests for both nominations.

All of this was in place before California moved its primary for 2008 during the first half of 2007. There was already a foundation in place drawing states to earlier dates on the 2008 calendar. California and three other states had legislation introduced in January 2007 to move their primaries to February 5, 2008. Only an additional seven primary states initiated legislation to shift to February or earlier positions after California began its effort to shift into February 2008. An argument could be made that California contributed to that stampede to what was called Titanic Tuesday. However, what was not witnessed in 2007 was "more than 20 other states also mov[ing] up their contests in response."

That is false. The conditions were already in place for a massive move before California legislators began their work on the effort in early 2007.

What is different in 2020 is that California has moved much earlier than most states tend to move.

Fun fact:
Should Governor Brown sign SB 568 into law, the two most populous states will occupy the same [early] spot on the calendar for the first time. Texas is already scheduled to have an early March primary in 2020. Those two states have never shared a date on the presidential primary calendar in the post-reform era. New York shared an early date with California in March 2000 and February 2008, but Texas had already slipped past New York in population by 2000. Texas offers another option for those [non-Califorinian] candidates who would be seeking delegates on that date outside of  the Golden state. But together, they are quite the pairing so early on the calendar. And likely to be joined by others.

Interesting possibility:
One early reaction to the California bill passing both legislative hurdles was from the heart of the SEC primary move for 2016. Like 1988, there was some coordination among some southern states to coalesce on an earlier spot on the 2016 primary calendar. That effort was spearheaded by Georgia secretary of state, Brian Kemp. Asked for comment in the wake of passage in California, Kemp's office suggested one option may be to move the SEC primary to a later date.

For the most part, states have not tended to unilaterally disarm in that way, moving to a later date. To the extent that has happened, it has usually been budgetary. It is a function of states experimenting with a separate and earlier presidential primary, but not getting as large a return on investment as expected. States like Alabama, Arkansas and North Carolina have decoupled their presidential primaries from (pre-convention) May and June consolidated primaries only to reverse course soon thereafter. The costs of funding a new and separate presidential primary were too steep to carry out more than once; particularly after it failed to net any of them the influence they sought.

The other scenario where states have moved to later dates is when forced to by a change in national party rules. It was mentioned above that in 2004 both parties allowed February contests. After the de facto national primary in 2008 and some of the other maneuvering that pushed Iowa and New Hampshire into the year prior to the presidential election, both parties moved to protect the early states -- carving out February for those four contests -- and prohibiting other states from holding contests prior to March. That left a lot of states with February primaries on the books in their states that were forced to move back in 2012. Some shifted to the newly established earliest allowed date -- the first Tuesday in March -- while others pushed back even further.

But those states were prompted to move by a change in the national party rules. At this time, there is no such prompting -- via penalty or incentive -- from the national parties. That may change between now and 2018 when the 2020 rules are finalized.

One final aspect to an SEC primary move, especially if it is to a much later date, is that on the Democratic side, such a move would mean shifting back a meaningful segment of the Democratic primary electorate: African Americans, who make up over half of the primary electorate in a number of those southern states. The optics on that would likely be bad, but it remains to be seen whether Republican-controlled legislatures across the south would view that as a roadblock.

Still, that is an implication of the SEC primary potentially moving back.

Interesting possibility II:
California had not adjourned its session before talk emerged from Oregon about the possibility of the Beaver state dislodging itself from its traditional May primary position to perhaps join California in March. But California was only part of the rationale in Oregon. Efforts in 2015 and 2017 to shift the Washington state primary from May to March were also a part of the Oregon secretary of state's calculus.

SEC primary meet a PAC12 primary (or at the very least a West Coast primary)?

Let's focus on the coastal states. There is some reason to be skeptical of Oregon and Washington joining up with California based on the evidence we have now. There are several factors that complicate matters for the Golden state's northern neighbors.

First, the efforts in both states to this point are mainly Republican-driven. It was the Republican secretary of state in Oregon last week who said he would push for an earlier primary. But Oregon has a consolidated primary in late May, one they would have to split up and fund to have an earlier presidential primary. The statewide primary cannot be earlier -- in March -- because it would conflict with the state legislative session and that is prohibited in the state (no campaigning by legislators during their legislative session). The key question in Oregon, then, is whether Democrats will be willing to fund a separate and earlier presidential primary in March 2020. They tried that in 1996 and went right back to the current set up in 2000.

In Washington, Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R) spent some of 2015 trying to get Democrats in the Washington state legislature to go along with a plan to move the primary there to the second Tuesday in March for 2016. That got bottled up in committee. In the grand scheme of things, that has everything to do with Democrats having opted out of the state-funded primary since it came into being via ballot initiative in 1989. Washington Democrats have just preferred caucuses. They -- caucuses -- are much easier to move around because they don't have to go through a legislature in most cases. And Washington has had earlier caucuses in the recent past. One could see Democrats there opting for caucuses aligned with a California primary, but again, there is reason to be skeptical that Secretary Wyman will be successful in lobbying to get the primary moved up.

Should Washington Democrats pull the trigger on such a move, it could put some pressure on Oregon Democrats to follow suit with a primary move. But that likely won't happen until 2019. And it goes without saying that at this point, March 3 looks like it is going to be quite crowded which could minimize the impact of a western (sub)regional primary. Should the SEC primary states disarm and move back, then maybe that western primary will be noteworthy, but see the above discussion about that SEC primary possibility.

There is also the chance of a more expansive PAC12 primary. Colorado has a primary now and the first Tuesday in March is an option at the governor's disposal in the Centennial state under the new state law. Additionally, Utah passed legislation earlier this year to fund a presidential primary. But the legislature will have to go back at some point and revisit the timing. The February and June options available to the state under law are both non-compliant with national party rules on timing. Finally, Arizona would have to move up a couple of weeks in March as well. There is no sign yet that anything along those lines is in the works. Overall, it is something that could gain traction if there are both Democratic and Republican proponents across those states.

In the end, it looks as if California will move up to March for 2020. But be careful about coming to conclusions about what that means. It is still early yet.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Caucuses, the Unity Reform Commission and Democrats in 2020

The Democratic National Committee Unity Reform Commission recently reconvened for its third of four meetings.1 On the agenda were caucuses, support for state parties and superdelegates.

If you had told me heading into the meeting that superdelegates were going to be one of the topics -- even one of many -- then I would have assumed that superdelegates would have been the point of controversy coming out of the meeting. And that assumption is not without a foundation. The unpledged delegates in the Democratic presidential nomination process were a wound reopened in late 2015 and one that continued to fester not only throughout primary season, but into and beyond the national convention in Philadelphia. Ripping that particular scab off, then, would, it stands to reason, reanimate those divides within the party.

But that is not what happened recently in Chicago. And there is a reason for that. The Unity Reform Commission was chartered in Philadelphia with the express purpose of reexamining a number of items within the nomination process. Most of that was open-ended. The Clinton campaign and its proxies took issue with, for example, the caucus process, and those affiliated with Sanders had concerns about, say, how the party was reaching out to unaffiliated voters. The URC was tasked with working together to discover, devise and recommend any changes to the rules to address those issues (if the need was pressing enough and/or if consensus could be built). However, there was little guidance in the charter as to the shape those recommendations would take.

That was not the case with respect to superdelegates. The task there was more defined and much less open-ended. In other words, there is a specified recommendation the URC has to make via the charter on superdelegates; to trim their ranks by roughly a third by pledging DNC members based on the primary or caucus results in their home states. That, in turn, has the effect not of limiting the discussion on the place of those unpledged delegates in the process, per se, but rather, putting in place a floor on the discussion where one does not exist on the other matters. The URC, then, could go beyond that mandate for a recommendation, but could find it difficult to find consensus (and/or design an alternative that would pass muster with the Rules and Bylaw Committee much less the full DNC).

Regardless, superdelegates were not controversial (or any more than they already were) coming out of the meeting. Strangely, caucuses elicited the biggest response. And to be clear the controversy was mostly external to the URC meeting; more in reaction to the topic discussion than anything else.

Again, this is unusual. The Democratic National Committee is limited in what it can do on caucuses. As the Unity Reform Commission heard in their first meeting in DC, primaries are mainly state-funded, giving those state governments some limited input on matters of scheduling and participation.  There are state party-funded primaries, but they are exception rather than rule and have mainly died out. Both South Carolina and Utah have had party-run primaries as recently as 2004, but if a state is not funding a primary, then caucuses have become the default alternative.

Indeed, that is an important point. Caucuses, to the extent they remain in the current context, are a function of, in most cases, a lack of a state-funded primary. Of the 14 states -- not including the territories -- that had Democratic caucuses in 2016, 11 of them were in states where there is no state-funded primary option. Only the state parties in Idaho, Nebraska and Washington -- the states in lime green below -- opted out state-funded primaries for the most recently completed cycle.

Furthermore, if one overlays the recent open primaries map (below) on top of the remaining yellow states on the map above, the picture fails to clear up any further for Democrats. The important thing to eye there is the stripe denoting partisan control of state governments. In only Hawaii and Washington are there unified Democratic state governments that could, if they were so inclined, shift from a caucus system to a primary. And obviously one of those states, Washington, has seen its state Democratic Party opt out of the state-funded primary since it was brought into being by ballot initiative in 1989. In each of the seven intervening cycles, Washington Democrats have chosen to record presidential preference and select national convention delegates through a caucus/convention system.

Elimination of caucuses, then, does not appear to be in the offing in 2020 and beyond. Unless the DNC is willing to pony up or state parties raise the cash necessary to conduct party-run primaries in states where no state-funded option is available, then caucuses, for better or worse, will be a part of the presidential nominating process.

And while it is true that caucuses are not going anywhere anytime soon, they have gradually dwindled in number over the course of the post-reform era. Primaries have proliferated as the main means of presidential preference expression across the nation since 1972. Then there were only 22 primary elections. The remainder were caucuses. In the time since, the balance has tipped and even more decidedly toward primaries. Not counting the territorial contests in 2016, there were, as was mentioned previously, just 14 caucuses left in mainly small and medium-sized states. That number will be scaled back even further in 2020. Already Colorado, Maine and Minnesota have made moves to add state-funded primary options for the next presidential nomination cycle. And in the latter two, the state parties have a say in the date selection for the primary and thus have incentive to opt in. In Colorado, the state parties are structurally hemmed in by the new law and national party rules and likely have no other recourse but to utilize the primary for delegate allocation.

That leaves just 11 caucus states at this point in 2017 for 2020. And other than Washington, the remaining caucuses are in small states. None have more than four members in the House. Participation rates in caucuses, though reduced by comparison to primaries, are reduced by less in small states than in large states. Those are all steps in the right direction for those who are proponents of scaling back or eliminating caucuses. The reality is that this is much like the Democratic Change Commission (DCC) deliberations on the caucuses subject. Minus funding, the most feasible path is through a tweaking of the processes and the development of what the DCC called "best practices," a more uniform process across states.

That remains the most likely URC outcome/recommendation where caucuses are concerned.

While the spotlight is on caucuses, I want to take an opportunity to address a rather strange narrative on caucuses that has blossomed during the summer months. The idea, as proffered by Armando at Daily Kos and picked up by some in the national media, amounts to this: Sanders-affiliated members of the URC are aiming to propose "a rule that will call for the the Democratic Party Presidential nominating rules to require a state either hold open primaries or if the state refuses, and instead holds a closed primary, that a state party hold a caucus instead to select presidential nomination delegates."

Now, on the one hand, this would create an expansion of the types of contests in which Sanders was most successful during the 2016 presidential primary calendar. That would be an understandable push for Sanders-appointed members on the Commission, and the behavior would not necessarily be that atypical. Proxies advancing the interests of their candidates in these settings is nothing new. What would be different is the Sanders folks attempting to include such a proposal among the recommendations the URC will make as 2017 comes to a close.

I say that for a number of reasons.
1) Nothing along these lines has come up at any of the three Unity Reform Commission meetings.

2) It is not that the Sanders appointees cannot push a measure like this, but rather, that they would likely have a difficult time garnering the votes necessary -- a majority -- to make such a recommendation. Clinton-affiliated members outnumber those appointed by Sanders, and new party chair, Tom Perez, filled the remaining three slots on the URC. And even if the votes were there, the measure would still have to make it through the Rules and Bylaws Committee and the full Democratic National Committee to be enacted.

3) That is even less likely given that the supposed proposal would face some of the same roadblocks as a rule eliminating caucuses, namely, funding. The Democratic National Committee would find it difficult to force a state/state party to have caucuses in lieu of a closed primary. First, the political landscape currently is not amenable to opening primaries as has been dealt with already. Republicans, at the moment, control too many of the state-level levers of power. That may change in 2018, but is unlikely to be reversed to an extent that newly-empowered Democrats could -- or even would -- open up primaries. And to force states in that category to hold caucuses would be unnecessarily and historically (in this context) punitive. State parties would have to give up a funded election and foot the bill for caucuses. Some states do that, but they are, as was pointed out above, very few in number.

4) It would be odd to allow states constrained by state-level partisan factors to apply for a waiver from penalties on something like what Minnesota Democrats faced in 2012 because of their statutorily mandated caucuses scheduling and not on something like how opened a primary is to unaffiliated voters. There would be an inconsistency there. There are inconsistencies in the delegate selection rules to be sure, but they tend to be on matters much less consequential than penalties on violating states.

5) The history of carrots and sticks offered by the DNC does not match this hypothetical proposal. Those have been used to combat issues where there was a widespread view that the matter was problematic. Frontloading is a great example. That increasingly more states were moving up their delegate selection events and clustering on earlier dates was seen -- regardless of which candidate one was rooting for on past rules commissions -- as a problem for the nominating system, not just a particular candidate. This proposal would mark a significant departure from that pattern of rule making.

Until the evidence changes and such a proposal is put forth, this is not something that should be taken seriously. The reality is that this proposal and the weird narrative around it are an engineered vehicle for some within the broader Democratic Party coalition to vent about some of the more vocal Sanders appointees on the URC if not Sanders supporters more broadly. It just would not be a serious proposal even if all of the Sanders appointees on the URC were publicly in favor of it. Those folks are still in the minority on the Commission.

In the end, it would still be more likely to see Sanders acolytes do what Ron Paul/Tea Party folks did after 2008. That is, attempt to fairly take over state parties and opt for closed caucuses over wider turnout primaries. The Tea Party era attempts failed in that bottom line, and it is still a likelier end point for Sanders folks than this unserious "proposal".

1 A fifth meeting has now been added for December, one that will, no doubt, be utilized to finalize the recommendations the URC will pass on to the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Bells and Whistles Removed, Amended California Presidential Primary Bill Moves Forward

For much of 2017, there have been a couple of bills working their way through the California State Assembly to change the date of the presidential primary in the Golden state. And for much of the year both have been on a bit of a collision course. Both have made it through their originating chamber, but the bills differ from one another, requiring some reconciliation at some point.

That reconciliation came as August came to a close last week. The crux of this is that the Senate-passed bill called for the continued consolidation of the presidential primary with the direct primary for state and local offices and moving that combined primary from early June to the third Tuesday in March. Additionally, the legislation would have given the California governor the power to shift that consolidated primary up even further on the primary calendar than the newly called for March baseline.

Alternatively, the Assembly took a simpler path, more consistent with the way in which other states tend to move their primaries around. Again, the budgetary constraints placed on the state almost require the presidential and direct primaries to remain consolidated. A separate presidential primary election would cost the state more than $100 million. But the Assembly bill would leave the direct primary in June in midterm election years while shifting the consolidated primary election up to the first Tuesday (after the first Monday) in March in presidential years.

In the end, there were atypical aspects to each piece of legislation. The staggered result of that Assembly bill (AB 84) -- a March primary in one year, and a June primary in another -- is exception rather than rule in most states with consolidated primaries. Alabama and Mississippi stand out as states that have a similar, on-again-off-again approach, but again, most states -- Illinois and Texas among them -- with consolidated primaries tend to be more consistent, holding them at the same calendar point regardless of the what office is at the top of the ticket in a given year.

On the state Senate side, the uncommon provision in the bill (SB 568) was and has always been the additional power granted the governor to shift the primary to an even earlier date than the new third Tuesday in March baseline. It was always poorly designed. Basically, the earliest the governor could realistically schedule the primary was for the first Tuesday in March. There is more to it than that -- which interested readers can dig into here -- but that essentially powerless power ceded to the governor would only really give the executive in the Golden state the ability to move the primary to a point on the calendar where Assembly bill would already move it.

But as of August 31, those complications are gone. First, the Assembly bill was pulled off the active list in the Senate and the gubernatorial provision was removed from the Senate bill. What is left is a piece of legislation (SB 568) that would push the consolidated California primary election up from the first Tuesday (after the first Monday) in June to the first Tuesday (after the first Monday) in March. That calendar position would be used in both presidential and midterm election years starting in 2019, eliminating the staggering of the Assembly bill.

The amended Senate bill will now go on the calendar for a final vote in the Assembly and have to return to the Senate for consideration there before moving on to the governor for signature. With a uniform date now settled, California's potential impact on the 2020 presidential primary calendar can be more clearly discussed. As outlined in previous posts in this space, the proposed shift would move a significant chunk of delegates from late in the calendar to the earliest spot on the calendar after the four carve-out states. Such a cache of delegates moving to the beginning of March would shift up the point at which half the delegates will have been allocated in both parties by about a week depending on how other states react between now and 2020.

First, though, California has to move its primary. And that will likely take more time as the remaining Senate-passed (but now amended) bill continues its path through the legislative process.

A tip of the cap to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for passing along news of the amendment to FHQ.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Open Primaries, the Democrats and 2020

Early last month the Democratic National Committee-sanctioned Unity Reform Commission convened for their second meeting in San Antonio. While the agenda at the first meeting in May in Washington, DC served to provide an overview of the nomination process to the members of the commission, the San Antonio meeting was dedicated to drilling down on a couple of specific issues. Mainly, time was spent hearing from a series of presenters and discussing 1) the overlapping/diverging interests of state governments and the parties in the presidential nomination process and 2) the idea of drawing unaffiliated voters into the process.

[For more on the first meeting in Washington, see here.]

FHQ has spent (and will likely continue to spend in the future) an inordinate amount of time discussing the former agenda item, particularly through the lens of presidential primary scheduling. However, here I will focus more on the latter agenda point; those unaffiliated voters. Typically national parties, if they have weighed in at all during their nomination rules making over time, have tended move in the opposite direction. That is, the national parties have been guided by an impetus to make the nomination process one where only registered partisans participate rather than opening up the floodgates to those outside the party. The principle from the party's perspective, for better or worse, has most always been, "if you want to participate, join the party."

At the state level, the story is different and varied. There, most but not all states utilize a primary as the means of allowing voters to express their presidential preference, the results of which determine the delegate allocation to candidates. And therein lies one of those aforementioned points of overlapping jurisdiction. State parties, by opting into the government-run and funded primary cede in part some of their ability to directly determine the parameters of the election. That is clearest on something like the date of the contest. It is state governments that make that "when" determination whether or not either of the state parties is on board.

And that same relationship exists to a slightly lesser degree where participation is concerned. By opting into a state government-funded election, the state parties yield to the state government to decide which voters can participate in a partisan primary. Unlike setting the dates of those various contests, however, state parties have been more willing to challenge the extent of state government control over determining who can vote. And those challenges -- Tashjian, for starters and some of the blanket primary cases such as California Democratic Party v. Jones -- have tended to find the courts siding with the parties, emphasizing the private organizations' freedom of association protections.

But not all state parties have or have had conflicts with the decisions made by state governments. Those state parties are, on the one hand, fine with more open processes that allow them to woo independents and/or those affiliated with the other party. But on the other hand, some state parties are perfectly happy with state laws dictating a closed primary. And as Meinke, et al. (2006) found, the ideological proximity of the state party to party registrants in a state has a significant bearing how open the process is. If there is convergence between the party and rank-and-file partisans, the primaries tend to be more open. But the wider the distance between the two, the more likely it is that the state party makes some attempt to protect their position by closing off the process to partisans of their own party or limiting participation even further through a caucus/convention system of nomination.

Of course, other state parties have not challenged those conflicts at all through legal channels, opting instead to leave well enough alone or to seek a solution through advocating for legislation making the necessary changes to who can participate. A final subset of state parties have chosen to (attempt to) opt out of state-funded primaries altogether at the presidential level and on down the ballot. It was this last subset that was most active during the Obama years. Tea Party and Ron Paul-aligned state Republican parties pursued -- mostly unsuccessfully -- a path of nominating candidates via low turnout caucuses closed but for registered partisans.

Yet, that action -- state parties attempting to create a process closed to those outside the party -- was consistent with how the national parties have tended to behave (when they have sporadically chosen to attempt to intervene on the matter). In fact, in an extension of the Tea Party maneuvering of the Obama years, a proposal was discussed and debated in the Convention Rules Committee meeting preceding the 2016 Republican National Convention to provide incentives to states with closed presidential primaries.

But the Democratic Party did not follow a similar, parallel trajectory at their 2016 national convention in Philadelphia. Rather, the pressure from Sanders delegates and supporters was to open the process up. That push, along with that on other points of contention like the superdelegates issue, culminated with the charter that created the Unity Reform Commission in the first place. However, while there were clear guidelines in that charter regarding the recommendations the commission would make with respect to superdelegates, the language on the open primaries question was more passive. Mainly, that is due to the some of the complexities described above.

Now that the Unity Reform Commission has had this discussion, though, there are a couple of points FHQ would raise on open primaries. One is semantical. The other is a recitation on a theme I have raised a few times since primary season in 2016.

1. Open primaries?
While "open primaries" is often the shorthand used, they are not necessarily for what the Sanders folks have been pushing. And that is pretty clear in how the URC dealt with the issue. The approach of the commission was about attracting unaffiliated voters instead of an outright call for open primaries. There is some nuance there that is absent in calls for open primaries.

Categories based on National Conference of State Legislatures definitions

After all, Sanders did not fare all that well in open contests. Many of them were scattered across the South, where Clinton idd better than the Vermont senator, especially among African American voters. Looking at the wins each viable Democratic presidential aspirant had in 2016 (by contest participation type), Sanders clearly bested Clinton in states that held caucuses rather than primaries. Clinton only won in the earliest two caucuses in Iowa and Nevada. On top of that, her numbers were buoyed in the territories that held caucuses. But this was a category -- arguably the most closed of the bunch -- Sanders ironically dominated.

Sanders also had a 4:1 advantage in the states where law allowed unaffiliated voters to participate.

But Clinton dominated on either end of the spectrum in both completely closed and open primary states. The former was the true sticking point among the Sanders set as Sanders lone win in a closed primary was in the late calendar Oregon primary. The impetus of the call for change through the Unity Reform Commission, then, are those closed primaries. It is really a call fewer closed primaries or for more openness, not necessarily more open primaries.

2. Obstacles galore
Yes, this differs from what is happening on the Republican side -- the pressure there is in the opposite direction -- but that does not make a full scale change to more open primaries or incentivizing an increase in their number at the state level any more likely.


The answer lies in the fact that Democrats are in an inferior position relative to their Republican counterparts in state governments across the country. There are a lot of red and yellow stripes across the closed primary states in the map below. Republicans have unified control of more state governments, they control more state legislative chambers and they control more governor's mansions. That may change in the elections in New Jersey and Virginia later this year and/or in 2018, but that will not necessarily be clear when the Unity Reform Commission is making its recommendations (by the beginning of 2018), nor when the Rules and Bylaws Committee (and the DNC later) will finalize the 2020 rules in the late summer of 2018.

Sources: NCSL (participation type, 2017 partisan composition), New York Times (2016 Democratic results)
And even if Democrats improve their position on the state level in 2018, bringing about a change on the openness of the primaries may continue to prove difficult based on the mix of partisan control and local custom on a state by state basis. That circles back around to the Meinke, et al. conclusion above.

There is a reason the Rules Committee stalemate -- delay really -- yielded firmer guidance on the superdelegates question than on either the caucus-to-primary or open primaries questions. It was an issue the national party could more easily dictate. The latter two require some interaction with governments in the various states. And legislative action is just as difficult on the state level as it is in the national capital. It is a heavy lift and on open primaries, one that is political to say the least. Set your expectations accordingly.

Monday, July 17, 2017

California Continues Slow March Toward Earlier Presidential Primary

In the earliest stages of the 2020 presidential election cycle, there has been little maneuvering on the nascent calendar of primary and caucus contests. However, the state that seems most likely to shift in 2017 in anticipation of the next nomination phase is a big one.

The question that emerges from the legislative action in California is where in March the Golden state will settle on the calendar. March is the destination in the two bills that have worked their way through the originating chamber -- one from the Assembly and one from the Senate -- to the cusp of final votes across the capitol. But they are not companion bills, nor has any effort been made to reconcile the two pieces of legislation with each other.

On the Senate side, AB 84 made it out of committee late last week with a unanimous green light to move the primary from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. But the Senate -- including the same Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional amendments -- had already passed the more complicated SB 568. That bill would also move a consolidated California primary from June to March but to the third Tuesday in March (with an option for the governor to move the election up even further).

The same has been true on the Assembly side. The Assembly bill made it through its initial chamber and has made it through the committee stage on the state Senate with no amendments aimed at reconciling the two bills.

And the differences extend beyond a conflict over the date of the primary election in presidential election years. There is also a discrepancy with respect to the timing of the primary in midterm years. The Senate's governor's option bill would move the primary to the third Tuesday in March in both presidential and midterm years with the allowance that the governor may move the primary to an earlier date from the proposed earlier late March baseline. Yet, the Assembly version would maintain the June primary date in midterm years while shifting the consolidated primary to early March in presidential years only.

Neither version has seen much resistance along the way despite the differences. As such, it may be that the state legislature will defer to the governor to decide which version to sign (or veto them both).

Regardless, it should be noted that small changes to the Senate version in the Assembly will ultimately send the legislation back to the Senate if it passes the Assembly. That version, too, received a second reading on the floor of the Assembly, but was referred to the Appropriations Committee. That more complicated version -- with the governor's option -- may end up bottled up there with the more straightforward Assembly version pushing through to the governor.

The slow march (in an even slower year for presidential primary movement) continues in California.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Amended Primary Legislation Passes North Carolina House

After clearing a committee hurdle late last week, SB 655, made it onto the calendar of the North Carolina House.

When considered on the floor of the chamber this morning, the bill was amended with just one dissenting vote and subsequently passed by a 71-46 margin largely along party lines (with Republicans in favor of the amended bill). That is a far different picture than the contrasting unanimous vote on the original legislation in late April.

But the amendment was not driving the difference across chambers. The change added by the state House was a relatively noncontroversial tweak to the date on which the proposed law would take effect. Rather than launching upon the signature of the governor, the law in the amended bill would not kick in until January 2019. The practical effect of the move is to exempt the 2018 primary elections, keeping that consolidated primary election during the midterms next year in May.

While the focus at FHQ is often on the presidential primaries, this proposal in North Carolina has from the start sought to move the entire set of nominating contests from May to March while adding clarity to the language regarding the timing of the presidential primary.

The bill with the new "effective by" date will now head back to the state Senate for consideration.

6/12/18: Revived March Presidential Primary Bill Passes North Carolina Senate
6/1/17: North Carolina Inches Toward Joining a Nascent SEC Primary for 2020
4/27/17: North Carolina Presidential Primary Bill Unanimously Passes State Senate

Friday, June 2, 2017

North Carolina Inches Toward Joining a Nascent SEC Primary for 2020

A North Carolina House committee advanced on June 1 a bill to further specify the date of the presidential primary election in the Tar Heel state. 

With no debate on the measure, the House Elections and Ethics Law Committee favorably reported SB 655 after testimony from the state Senate sponsor of the legislation. State Senator Andrew Brock (R-34th, Davie, Rowan) has over the last several election cycles introduced legislation to move the North Carolina presidential primary to an earlier and more influential position on the presidential primary calendar. However, those moves often fell flat. 

The legislative receptivity to a change in 2017, though, is different for at least two reasons. 

First, the omnibus elections legislation the newly Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly passed in 2013 altered the date of the primary for the first time since 1988. But the change was conditional. May was left as the default position unless the earliest South Carolina primary was scheduled for before March 15. 

The triggering of that condition was a near certainty. South Carolina in 2016 had at least a February position protected by the national parties and had not had a contest later than March 15 since Palmetto state Democrats convened for caucuses slightly later than that in 1984. And while there was certainty that South Carolina would pull North Carolina under the 2013 change into an earlier date, there was uncertainty over when the Tar Heel state contest would occur and whether that would invite delegate sanctions from the national parties (if too early).

It was that threat of penalties that ultimately forced the hand of North Carolina legislators in late 2015. It was then that the General Assembly set the date of the North Carolina primary for March 15, but only for the 2016 cycle. Following the expiration of that change, the North Carolina primary reverted to its traditional May date, but with the same problematic South Carolina tether added in 2013.

Together, the creation of the earlier primary and inefficient and circuitous route it took to March 15 provided the impetus for change in 2017. 2016 proved that North Carolina could pull off an earlier primary and also demonstrated the need for a more certain date. And that is what Sen. Brock and others are advocating.

SB 655 moved through the state Senate with little to no resistance, passing the upper chamber unanimously. Now, the bill has been pushed through the committee stage on the House side of the Capitol and is poised for a floor vote some time during the first full week of June.

That would, assuming a signature from Governor Roy Cooper (D), shift the North Carolina primary up -- two weeks relative to 2016 -- to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. The Tar Heel state would join a mostly southern line up of other states on the first sanctioned date of the 2020 calendar. Neighboring Tennessee and Virginia as well as Alabama, Texas and likely Georgia are also currently slated to hold contests then.

The test will be whether the calendar remains southern up front or if other states join the head of the queue.

6/12/18: Revived March Presidential Primary Bill Passes North Carolina Senate
6/6/17: Amended Primary Legislation Passes North Carolina House
4/27/17: North Carolina Presidential Primary Bill Unanimously Passes State Senate

Monday, May 22, 2017

A 2020 Presidential Primary in Colorado

This is part one in a series of posts about 2017 legislation seeking to alter state laws concerning the timing of presidential primary elections or caucuses. 

A careful reading of the set up post to this piece is revealing of an omission to the group of states that made caucus-to-primary shifts in 2016. While Maine and Minnesota took more conventional routes -- passing legislation establishing presidential primary elections to replace caucuses -- Colorado voters took an atypical path in the state's switch to a presidential primary for the 2020 cycle.

And it is not that Colorado legislators had not tried to make the change. Efforts in both 2015 and 2016 languished in the committees to which they were referred and died when their respective sessions adjourned. In addition, the 2016 bill was introduced with the 2016 caucuses process in the Centennial state as the backdrop. That "debacle" featured a state Democratic party overwhelmed by a large turnout (and other subsequent problems) and Republican process that elected delegates but without an attendant preference vote for president. The result was that Coloradans of all political stripes were left unsatisfied with the process.

Enough were disenchanted and organized -- even in the time in mid-spring around which the 2016 presidential primary legislation was introduced -- that an initiative was approved and added to the November general election ballot. When the legislative effort failed, then, there was a citizen-driven effort, approved by the Colorado secretary of state, to fill the void. That initiative, Proposition 107, easily passed.

The practical effect was that 107's passage brought Colorado in line with Maine and Minnesota. Whereas all three states have had presidential primaries in the past, all three have been caucus states over at least the last four cycles. And like those other two caucus-turned-primary states, Colorado made the switch, but did not specify a date on which it would regularly occur. Instead, the new law as approved by the voters ceded the date-setting authority to the governor of Colorado, but with significant limitations.

The guidance provided allows the governor to set the date of the primary on a Tuesday 1) not before the earliest date allowed by the national parties and 2) no later than the third Tuesday in March. That gives the state some leeway, but not much. Before September 1 of the year prior to the presidential election, the Colorado governor will have the ability to set the date of the primary on the first, second or third Tuesday in March.1 Together, all three weeks saw a significant chunk of delegates allocated in 2016. That window was a clustered area on the 2016 primary calendar, but one in which the Colorado caucuses were scheduled anyway.

All of that is simple enough. First, there is a switch in Colorado from a caucus to a primary. And additionally, that contest will be conducted during the first three weeks of March 2020. However, there are at least a couple of relevant caveats for which to account.

1) This is not the only instance of a state that arrived at a presidential primary by a voter-driven initiative. Washington is another example, and the experience in the Evergreen state over the last 25 years is instructive if not cautionary. Washington has held its presidential primaries in that time but the state parties there have often held the contest at arms length. The Republican Party has only partially and occasionally used the contest as a means of allocating its national convention delegates. This past cycle, 2016, was the first time in the Washington primary era that the party used the primary results to guide the allocation of all of its delegates.

The Democratic Party has been worse. In that time, the party has only ever utilized the primary as a beauty contest, most often occurring after the first determining step of the delegate allocation process (the precinct caucuses). Delegates, then, have been allocated based on the state party-run caucuses rather than the primary.

One could potentially see the partisan roles reversed in Colorado. Democrats spearheaded the early legislative efforts in the Centennial state to trade in the caucuses for a primary. But a small number of Republicans in the state legislature were able to kill those bills in committee. Moreover, Colorado Republicans not only opted for closed caucuses in 2016, but chose to eliminate the preference vote at the precinct level in an attempt to continue the state party tradition of sending an unbound delegation to the Republican National Convention. A higher turnout primary among Republicans much less the independents now allowed to participate may be more than the party wants.

Could the Colorado Republican Party opt out of the primary in the way that Washington Democrats have?

The answer appears to be no. On the one hand, Colorado Republicans could take the state to court on freedom of association grounds since under the guidelines of the new primary law, independents are allowed to participate. Neither chair from either of Colorado's two major parties was a fan of that part of the change in the lead up to the election last November.

Possible court challenges aside, there is a further complication for Colorado Republicans; one not faced by Washington Democrats. Historically, Colorado has been one of the few states where state legal code affected things like the timing of caucuses. In most caucus states, that is a matter solely left up to the state parties. But in Colorado, state law described the parameters under which caucuses were conducted. That is part of the reason both parties there held caucuses on the same night in 2016.      Both parties have also historically followed the letter of the law that part of the statute.

But it, too, was altered by the ballot initiative voters passed in November 2016. Rather than giving the parties the option of the first Tuesday in February or March to hold caucuses, the new law lays out a Saturday after the primary date for party precinct caucuses (to begin the process of selecting delegates). That is an important change. If the parties had maintained the option of holding earlier caucuses, Colorado Republicans could have opted into that type of contest in lieu of the later primary.

That is, of course, assuming the party chose to replicate its 2016 strategy: caucuses without preference votes. And again, that practice was at least part of the rationale driving the ballot initiative in reestablishing the presidential primary in 2016.

But that February option is off the table. It is no longer in the statute. And without it, Colorado Republicans would be forced, under Republican National Committee delegate selection rules, to allocate delegates based on the initial statewide contest, in this case the primary.

2) One additional, far less detailed caveat, is that the Colorado General Assembly during its 2017 session tweaked the law adopted via the November ballot initiative. And the emphasis is on the word "tweak". This was not an effort to repeal or reverse the changes coming from Proposition 107 as has happened elsewhere. Instead, the move in Colorado was to clean up and clarify a number of points. For our purposes, the changes were twofold.

First, the legislature empowered the secretary of state along with the governor to settle on the date of the presidential primary. Technically, the pair could be from different parties which could present either benefits or challenges. The more practical rationale behind the move is to bring into the process the main election administrator in the state.

SB 17-305 also clarified the protocol by which the state is to handle the participation of voters unaffiliated with either of the two major parties (who are now allowed to participate in the presidential primary).

Governor Hickenlooper (D) signed SB 17-305 into law on May 19, 2017 and it will likely take effect in August.

1 This assumes that the national parties maintain their preference for non-carve-out states to begin holding primaries and caucuses on the first Tuesday in March and after. If that changes, then the Colorado window could expand or contract.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

2020 Presidential Primary Movement: Expectations Setting

With state legislatures across the country at various stages of winding down their work for 2017, FHQ should do what it should have done at the outset of those bodies convening earlier this year. Mainly, that means putting together an outlook of what one might anticipate with respect to their efforts at scheduling or repositioning presidential primary elections for the 2020 cycle. Consider this -- even retrospectively -- as a set of guidelines.

First, one does tend to see more action in odd numbered years. However, the year after a presidential election is usually a period when the urgency to shift the dates of presidential nomination contests is, if not at its nadir, then quite low compared to other windows of time. There may be some lingering sentiment to reorder the primary calendar in the time immediately after a presidential election cycle among constituents and legislators alike -- when the most recently completed presidential nomination process is still fresh on the minds of both -- but that does not often lead to actual changes.

More often, any leftover feelings from and about the previous process make their way into proposed/introduced legislation that ends up much further down the list of legislative priorities for the majority of legislators. To put it in language that FHQ often uses, there may be a willingness to improve the lot of a state and its presidential primary position among a handful of legislators but they rarely have the ability to translate that into passed and signed legislation. Again, there are bigger fish to fry for most legislators coming off an election of their own. As in Washington, the time to move on legislative priorities -- especially if they are large in scope -- is early.

None of this is to suggest that one does not see any activity. Rather, there are factors that tend to limit that action in the year after a presidential election. The convergence of legislative willingness and ability to alter the timing of a presidential primary election tends to occur when that aforementioned urgency is raised. And that most often occurs not in the year after the last presidential election cycle, but in the year before the next presidential election cycle.

Very simply, the timing of the next presidential primary election is a bigger priority to state-level actors in the period just before the next primary season. Incidentally, that is also a period in which there is much more data available legislatures considering a move; data on the political climate that may hover over the next nomination process, data on what the national party delegate selection rules will be, and emerging data on who may be actually running for the nomination(s).

Political climate is a bit of a catch-all. Midterm elections do not necessarily portend what is to come in the next presidential election cycle. An out-party that flips control of one or more houses of Congress will not always be able to parlay that into taking back the White House two years later. That does not mean that there is nothing that can be taken from those midterms for the next cycle. It is just that what take-home messages are produced -- again, with respect to the movement of presidential primary elections -- happens at the state level and not at the national level (or because of how state-level actors read or react to what is happening nationally).

One example of this comes from a factor that FHQ has mentioned in a recent series of posts about the current efforts to move the California presidential primary for 2020. That potential calendar change and possible Democratic state government gains (both gubernatorial and state legislative) in 2018 may lead to a heightened desire among those out-party governors/legislators to reshuffle the primary calendar deck in 2020. That desire does not exist now. In 2017, with Republicans in control of an overwhelming number of state legislatures across the country, primary calendar positioning is even further down the list of priorities. There is little desire -- little urgency -- among most Republicans state legislators to alter 2020 presidential primary election dates. In 2019, that picture may be different.

And bear in mind that political climate is more than merely what can be read from a midterm election. That election provides a snapshot in an ever-evolving time series, but one that can confirm or refute the (whether real or perceived) trajectory of the balance of power between the two major parties. All of this is perhaps a long-winded way of saying that a change in partisan control in states across the country may affect the extent to which primary election positioning is a priority in 2019 when the majority of those decisions tend to or will be made.

Beyond the climate, the national party rules also matter in this mosaic. A rules change in 2018 may affect or even prompt state-level changes in 2019. And there is recent precedence for this. Democrats allowed February contests starting in 2004. That had the effect of inviting states to schedule earlier contests that cycle; something that bore fruit in 2004, but saw much more movement four years later. Both parties informally agreeing to a rough primary calendar outline after 2008 additionally forced some of those same states that had moved for 2004 and 2008 to reconsider their positions. It took that informal coordination and some tweaking on penalties across a couple of cycles -- 2012 and 2016 -- to carve out February for just Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. That left the remaining states to pick and choose spots in the March to June window.

Those sorts of changes to the national party rules on timing may affect what states do thereafter. So, too, might national party incentives/penalties concerning delegate allocation (winner-take-all, proportional, etc.) or participation (open, closed, etc.) affect state-level decision making.

Finally, perceptions of who may or may not run for a presidential nomination are more concrete in the year before a presidential election than just after the last one. That may affect decision making in the home states/regions of prospective candidates. Think southern Democratic-controlled states attempting to fashion a calendar that would produce a more moderate nominee in 1988 or the moves by legislators in Illinois in 2007 to benefit Barack Obama. Yes, this is a factor that is narrower in terms of its reach, but it is a variable in all of this nonetheless.

Now, the above description paints a picture of a process that will unfold not now but in a couple of years. That is still mostly true. To the degree there have been or will be changes to the presidential primary calendar, it most of it will happen in 2019. However, 2016 witnessed caucus to primary shifts in both Maine and Minnesota. And 2017 has not been without some activity. The efforts in California are the most prominent, but there are and were attempts elsewhere. In the coming days, FHQ will take a tour through the country and discuss the attempts in states where the issue of presidential primary timing has been raised. It is a story marked by legislation that has mostly lain fallow since introduction and/or has been bottled up in committee. Again, there is a willingness but lacking ability to affect change in state legislatures this early. There are, however, exceptions to this rule.