Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Senate Companion Introduced to Reestablish Missouri Presidential Primary

The effort to reestablish the Missouri presidential primary continues. 

No, there has not been any movement on any of the three identical bills in the Show-Me state House to resurrect the presidential primary that was cancelled in 2022. However, now there is a Senate companion to one of those prior bills. 

SB 602 was introduced on Monday by Senator Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-22nd, Jefferson) and was marked as a companion to HB 267. No co-sponsors were listed, so it remains to be seen just how widespread support is in the Senate to bring back the presidential primary. But the initial presidential primary provision was inserted in a broader elections package the legislature considered and passed during the 2022 session. Some supporters of that omnibus did not want to strike the presidential primary removal section from the bill for fear that it might affect passage of the entire package.

That, in turn, has left legislators in 2023 -- those who would prefer a state-run presidential primary over party-run caucuses -- with some clean up work. But again, how broad that support is for a return of the presidential primary in the Republican-controlled legislature remains in question. After all, a Republican secretary of state advocated for its removal in both 2021 and 2022, and a supermajority Republican legislature passed it as part of that 2022 elections omnibus. 

This legislation has been added to FHQ's updated 2024 presidential primary calendar


Monday, February 6, 2023

Raffensperger Weighs in on Early Georgia Presidential Primary

For the first time since the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) officially elevated Georgia in the discussions of early presidential primary states in December, Peach state Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) has publicly shared his thoughts. 

As the AP's Bill Barrow reports, Raffensperger likes the idea: 
“Georgia would be a great early primary state in 2028. It has a good cross-section of engaged voters from both parties."
And therein lies the rub. Georgia's fate on the Democratic calendar for 2024 remains unresolved and state Democrats have until June 3, 2023 to find a fix in order receive a pre-window waiver from the national party. But the problem is that the two national parties' calendars are misaligned more than usual for 2024. The RNC voted in April 2022 on amendments to the 2024 presidential nomination rules and opted to stick with the early calendar the party has used every cycle since 2008. 

That leaves Georgia on the outside looking in on that side of the equation. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada will once again be the four early states in the Republican process, and the national party now has no means of changing it. All rules changes had to be made by September 30, 2022. But once amendments were adopted by the national party last April, that was it. There is nothing the RNC can do at this point to change its calendar.

But as Raffensperger noted in his brief comments, things could be different for the Peach state when planning for 2028 commences. 

However, an early position in 2024 is still not necessarily out of the question for Georgia. There is just very little wiggle room at this point. The rules are locked in. But Raffensperger's office has set the criteria for cooperation from their office on the primary scheduling matter. In reaction to the DNCRBC calendar vote in December, Jordan Fuchs, deputy secretary of state set the parameters:
"We’ve been clear: This needs to be equitable so that no one loses a single delegate and needs to take place on the same day to save taxpayer funds."
Georgia can hold a single primary for both parties as early as March 1 under RNC rules. Any earlier than that and Republicans in the Peach state would be vulnerable to the RNC super penalty for timing violations. That would knock the Georgia delegation to the Milwaukee convention down to just twelve delegates. 

Democrats' efforts to push the primary up to the February 13 position prescribed in the new DNC rules are likely to be futile given those penalties. And now that Michigan has passed legislation to move into its February 27 spot -- not to mention that the DNC has now also adopted its rules -- flipping Georgia and Michigan in the order seems out of the question. 

However, if the DNC is serious about nudging the Georgia primary into the pre-window and it does not mind a Michigan-and-then-Georgia pairing to close the pre-window, then perhaps the Georgia primary could fit into the space between the Michigan primary on February 27 and Super Tuesday on March 5.

Saturday, March 2 would work. 

However, wedging Georgia into that spot creates a potential spacing issue with the Michigan and Georgia contests so close together on top of Super Tuesday. That spacing is less consequential on the Democratic side if President Biden seeks reelection and faces only nominal opposition. 

But that still leaves the issue of how a primary on that date fits into the Republican calculus both nationally and in Georgia. Peach state Republicans, of which Raffensperger is one, may like the idea of the Georgia primary playing a role similar to what South Carolina's did in the Democratic process in 2020. From the same Saturday-before-Super-Tuesday position, the Palmetto state primary catapulted then-candidate Biden into Super Tuesday victorious. It is an outcome that has been viewed in retrospect as decisive. And that is not a bad spot in which to potentially be. 

Of course, that may not be the case in the Republican process and especially with a possible Michigan primary just a few days prior to a hypothetical March 2 Georgia primary. And that Michigan Republican primary on February 27 is "possible" because the Michigan GOP faces the same issue Georgia Republicans would encounter on February 13: penalties from the national party. Michigan Republicans may yet opt out of the state-run primary and hold later caucuses that comply with RNC rules. 

The RNC may also not be on board with any of this. Signaling a green light to a Georgia move -- again, within the rules -- to Saturday, March 2 may set off a race toward a Super Saturday among other states. And the national party may or may not want that complication. Granted, Raffensperger has under Georgia law until December 1 to set the date of the Georgia presidential primary. There is no rush. That may help mitigate some of the potential for a rush to March 2. 

Still, that is a lot of moving parts, not to mention the number of interested decision makers, to pull something like that off in such a narrow window. But at this point, if Georgia is to be a part of the pre-window on the Democratic side, then it may be March 2 or bust. 

Honestly, it always has been.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

OK. The DNC Has a New and Different Calendar for 2024. Now What?

But as noted in this space a day ago, the adoption of those rules merely ends one chapter in the sequence and ushers in a new one. The national parties have now finalized their rules for the 2024 cycle, and now the ball in the court of the states, both state governments and state parties.1 And they will react. They already are. State legislators have been filing legislation to change the dates of presidential primaries. Democratic state parties have, no doubt, been crafting draft delegate selection plans that will be released as winter transitions to spring 2023. And even on the Republican side, state party officer elections are and will be occurring and (delegation allocation) rules tweaks will be considered.

Much of this is and will be routine. 

Some of it will not be. Again, as noted a day ago on the heels of the DNC adoption of the new calendar rules package, the national party has followed a divergent path in the 2024 cycle to this point. And it is more than breaking with tradition and shunting Iowa and New Hampshire to later spots (in the rules) on the primary calendar than either has typically occupied. But that is where the focus will be in the coming weeks and months. And understandably so. As the Republican invisible primary heats up and candidates enter the race, there projects be a dearth of stories on the Democratic side. If Biden jumps back in, as expected, and receives only token opposition, then the only game in town will be the continuing calendar drama over Iowa and New Hampshire (and to a lesser degree, Georgia). News of the Biden campaign build out will certainly break, but the calendar drama will contrast with the picture of a party ostensibly united behind the president.

But one need not peer into the fog of a crystal ball to attempt to discern where this calendar kerfuffle is going. It has become clear that both sides -- the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the state Democratic parties in Iowa and/or New Hampshire -- are going to dig in for a protracted battle. But that does not mean that news content creators and consumers need to fall into the trap of repeatedly checking the pulse of a predictable drama. 

Look, Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats will both have to submit draft delegate selection plans to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) by May 3, 2023. The Iowa Democratic Party will definitely have the ability to specify a particular date on which their caucuses will occur in 2024. Whether the party actually does specify a date by that time or dodges and leaves that blank -- waiting, as has been the standard early state protocol, for the certainty of where other states may fall on the calendar -- remains to be seen. But two of the three possible outcomes point toward defiance. Leaving the date blank or planning for January caucuses (in order to stay ahead of other states) in the plan rather than falling in line under the new rules are not provable, positive steps toward compliance. 

There is going to be defiance of the national party rules on the part of the Democratic parties in Iowa and/or New Hampshire or there will not be. And there will be a response from the DNCRBC. If defiance is the chosen path, then that reaction will not only be to strip both states of half their allotment of national convention delegates, but to remove the entire apportionment. 

This is pretty clear. ...right now.

It will not really be revelatory then in May (for Iowa) and June (when New Hampshire's waiver review concludes). It will not really be news. Yet, there are ways that the narrative can be pushed further that can benefit those following along with this story. Here are some questions that both news content creators and consumers can ask in the coming days, weeks and months of both entrenched interests in this seemingly inevitable back and forth.

Questions to ask now that there is an official outline for the 2024 presidential primary calendar
For both Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats:
What is the penalty for not following state law?

For New Hampshire Democrats:
Why can't the state party use a party-run option that complies with the DNC rules for 2024?
Both of these questions get to the heart of the typical defense in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Both parties use state law as a shield in their efforts to protect their respective first-in-the-nation statuses. Yes, there is a state law in Iowa that compels state parties to hold their precinct caucuses eight days before any other contest. And in New Hampshire the law calls for the state-run primary to be scheduled by the secretary of state for a time a week before any other similar contest. 

But what happens if either state party breaks those laws? 

The answer is clear in Iowa. Not much. No, it is less than that: nothing. There is clarity on that because both state parties have already broken that state law twice in the last four cycles. The caucuses were just five days before the New Hampshire primary in 2008.2 And they were just seven days before them four years later. And never mind the fact that Louisiana held an early primary in 1996 that was before both Iowa and New Hampshire that year and also allocated a sizable chunk of their delegates.

What price did Iowa political parties pay in those years? None. In all cases, there was no state sanction, and the state parties were able to continue drawing most of the candidate attention and reap the usual benefits of being first. In Iowa's case, the state law is only as strong as the unified state parties standing behind it. If either or both fold, then the law is meaningless (with no penalties).

Things are slightly different in New Hampshire where the contest -- the presidential primary -- is a state-funded and run process. Unlike in Iowa, that ties the hands of the state parties in ways that one currently sees. New Hampshire Democrats are powerless to change the state law to alter either the primary date/scheduling mechanism or add no-excuse absentee voting. Republicans control the levers of power in the Granite state. 

But what is keeping New Hampshire Democrats from opting out of the presidential primary and turning to a party-run process that complies with the new national party rules? Again, as is the case in the Iowa example above, it is not clear that there is any significant roadblock to that sort of change. Well, there is an obstacle. In this case, it is the defense mechanism that is triggered in New Hampshire every time the primary's first-in-the-nation status is threatened. Very simply -- and clearly -- few in New Hampshire want to let that go. 

So, just as is the case in Iowa, the New Hampshire law is only as strong as the parties willing to band together and stand behind it. Any deviation in Granite state by either or both parties undermines the law for future cycles.

Of course, it is worth noting that while New Hampshire Democrats could opt to hold a party-run contest of some sort, it is not clear that taking such a route would allow them to keep their pre-window waiver. Recall that the conditions to be granted that waiver require New Hampshire Democrats to change state laws they cannot possibly alter from the minority. 

And that is another question to pose to New Hampshire Democrats: What would the party do if it did hold majorities in the General Court and the governor's mansion as well? That is a hypothetical that Democrats in the Granite state are saved from having to directly answer in this cycle due to the partisan realities in the state at the moment. But that answer would be enlightening. 

That said, there was a hint of an answer in the comments Donna Soucy, Democratic leader in the New Hampshire state Senate and DNC member, made in defense of the first-in-the-nation primary before the full DNC on Saturday. While she noted the futility of Democratic actions in the legislature, she did say that legislation addressing no-excuse absentee voting had been advanced in the last legislative session only to be vetoed by Governor Sununu (R). She went on to say that legislation was in the works or already out there to do the same in this current session. That is a good faith effort on the part of New Hampshire Democrats. That is a provable, positive step toward one of the changes they are being asked by the DNCRBC to make. The effort may be doomed, but it is evidence of Democrats in the state at least working toward the change called for in order to be granted a pre-window waiver. 

But if Democrats in the New Hampshire General Court can make those efforts on no-excuse absentee voting, then why not on changing the date and scheduling mechanism for the presidential primary? Soucy did not go there in her comments to the DNC. And that is a tell. There is no intention to make those changes. To do so is to undermine the current law which would weaken New Hampshire in these fights in the future. And honestly, it would be bad politics locally. No Democrat in the Granite state is going to hand that -- trying to change the first-in-the-nation law -- to Republicans on a silver platter. They just are not. They cannot. It would be a political loser for them.

In the end and in the context of the back and forth between New Hampshire and the DNC, that is not going to matter. All the DNCRBC is going to look at are the rules and whether New Hampshire Democrats have made good faith efforts at provable, positive steps toward the changes required to be granted a pre-window waiver. All of this -- for both Iowa and New Hampshire -- circles back to the fact that neither has a specific guaranteed waiver for the first time since 1980. That is a key difference in how the DNC will deal with both moving forward.

Speaking of the DNC, there are questions that the national party could be asked that can advance this story beyond a simple he said/she said drama as well.
For the DNC:
How is the party going to enforce this in the end if either or both states go rogue?

How does the party do that in a way that preserves the new system -- the rotation -- for future cycles?
These are more difficult questions to answer because they imagine a situation further on down the line once Iowa and New Hampshire have acted (or not acted). However, if one assumes defiance on the part of Democrats in both traditional kick-off states, then the answers become a little less murky. 

If Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats fail to demonstrate that provable, positive steps are being taken to comply with the national party rules, then as was mentioned above, it is likely that the DNCRBC follows its 2008 blueprint and strips Iowa and/or New Hampshire of all of their delegates. Those signals are already out there. The panel is already communicating that to state parties.

The conundrum, of course, is that while it may be comparatively easy for the DNCRBC to levy a full delegation penalty on both Iowa and New Hampshire during primary season, it is a different matter entirely to enforce that in a way that preserves the effectiveness of the penalties for future cycles. To do that -- to penalize the states in a way that lasts beyond 2024 -- the convention would likely have to opt not to seat delegations from either or both states. 

Perhaps it is enough for the party to send the same signal it did with Florida and Michigan in 2008. A intra-primary season penalty, though, may only serve to delay an inevitable clash until a time in which it is more difficult to deal: a competitive nomination cycle. The stakes are relatively low in 2024 with an incumbent president seemingly on the cusp of entering a race (that does not appear to be much of a race). 

If the national party and the president are serious about uprooting Iowa and New Hampshire and changing the way that the pre-window lineup is set every cycle, then it will have to grapple with how seriously they want to sanction both states for potential rules violations. To make the change -- to move to a quadrennial possibility of a rotation of states in the pre-window -- then it will likely require the convention to not seat delegations from offending states. And the convention is a distinct set of decision makers. It is not exactly the same as the DNC. There is some overlap, but not complete overlap between the two. But a presumptive nominee, and an incumbent president at that, does have some say in orchestrating any convention that nominates him or her. Biden would theoretically have some say in the matter if push comes to shove with Iowa and/or New Hampshire in the summer of 2024. 

But will he? Would Biden and those around him ultimately go as far as to not seat entire delegations elected/selected to those positions by contests that violated national party rules? That is the part that has proven difficult in the past and part of what Iowa and/or New Hampshire are banking on in the 2024 cycle. The president will not need either state to win the nomination at the convention, but a unified convention is what nominees and parties aim for if they can get it to kick off a general election run. That is what the early states would try to exploit. 

The question then becomes whether there is some middle ground that can deliver a punishment, the effects of which can be carried over to future cycles to preserve the new system the DNC is attempting to establish. Is there something less than not seating a rogue delegation that would also be effective? Seating those delegations, but stripping them of their voting rights on roll call? On other matters like the platform or convention rules? None are necessarily good looks for a party that bills itself as a defender of voting rights (even if the party is following the rules codified for the 2024 cycle). There is no easy fix that makes enforcement foolproof to a degree that likely fully delivers a message to would-be rogue states in future cycles. It is tough given the timing of things and the incentives at various points along the timeline. 

Finally, there is one more question that could be asked of the DNC but likely applies more generally:
Do any of the interested parties involved in this turn to the courts?
It is not clear that the DNC or the Biden reelection campaign would directly turn to the courts to seek a remedy to this. It is, after all, an internal party matter. But if done early enough, the courts could offer a path to compliance. Remember the 1984 experience

Mondale campaign operatives in Iowa took Iowa Democrats to court, fearful that Mondale supporters in the Hawkeye state would be materially harmed at the convention if the caucuses in 1984 were too early in violation of the DNC rules that cycle. Threats to not seat the delegation would have meant Iowa voices would have been left unrepresented at the convention. The problem for those who brought the suit was not that the claim lack merit of that the claimants lacked standing. Rather, the case came so late -- in late 1983 -- that other candidates/other campaigns had already built infrastructure as if Iowa's caucuses would be in the (technically) noncompliant position. 

But if a case came earlier in the year -- like after Iowa or New Hampshire submitted rogue delegate selection plans signaling their intent -- and if the case was brought in a year in which an incumbent president were running for reelection against token opposition (with little demonstrable campaign infrastructure in place), what then? Could the courts force on Iowa and/or New Hampshire Democratic parties remedial actions including party-run processes that comply with national party rules. 

The catch is finding anyone in Iowa or New Hampshire who is still a Biden supporter and who is legitimately concerned about themselves or their state's voice being fully heard at the Democratic National Convention. After yesterday's DNC vote on the calendar package, there may not be too many folks left who fit that category. 

Nonetheless, it is a questions worth asking. One that, when combined with the others above, advances what is likely to be a messy back and forth between the state parties and the DNC. There will be he said/she said drama to that mess, but it would be helpful to push beyond the temptation to regurgitate that story every painful step of the way. The questions posed here get at factors beyond that sort of superficial account. 

1 In truth, there is some overlap between these two phases. It does not neatly transition from one chapter to another. While most state governments wait until after the national party rules are set, some act before that point in the cycle. It is just that there is more legislative urgency on the issue of presidential primary scheduling, for example, in the lead up to the next presidential primary -- typically after a midterm election and before the presidential primaries commence -- than at other times. 

2 Technically, the Iowa Republican caucuses were just two days before the caucuses that allocated two-thirds of national convention delegates in Wyoming that same year. 

Saturday, February 4, 2023

DNC Adopts 2024 Primary Calendar Plan

As expected, the Democratic National Committee on Saturday adopted the calendar rules package brought before it by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) at the party's winter meeting in Philadelphia.

Over the course of the general session, DNC members from both Iowa and New Hampshire rose in opposition to the changes that would remove the Hawkeye state from the early window altogether and replace the caucuses atop the Democratic presidential primary calendar with the South Carolina primary. However, other than a smattering of nays across the room, the proposed plan to reshape the early nomination calendar passed with near unanimous support. 

The vote brings to an end this chapter of the process. And it is an unusual end to the preliminary chapter the national parties write every four years. Typically in the Democratic process, the national party would have adopted all of its rules for the cycle by the time it held its midterm year summer meeting. And while the DNC did adopt the bulk of the 2024 rules in September 2022, it saved until after the midterm elections the decision concerning which states would receive waivers to hold pre-window contests. 

Moreover, that decision -- which states would be granted waivers -- broke with tradition as well. Rather than continue with the process in place since 2006 of automatically awarding waivers to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the DNC opened up the process in 2022 to any state Democratic party that wanted to pitch the DNCRBC on why it should be included in the early calendar. 20 states and territories, including the four traditional carve-outs, applied and 17, again, including the four traditionally early states, were invited to make presentations to the DNCRBC in the summer of 2022.

The criteria the DNCRBC operated under during that process were simple enough. The panel sought states that offered diversity (racial, regional and economic), competitive battlegrounds where primary stage campaigning would potentially pay dividends in a general election and afforded a feasibility of primary or caucus movement. Most of the traditional carve-outs had issues. Iowa, following a challenging 2020 caucuses, was already up against it without the additional strain of the party's diversity focus. New Hampshire was too. South Carolina did not fit the mold in terms of general election competitiveness. Only Nevada, a state that had already shifted from a caucus system to state-run primary before 2022 -- another preference of the national party dating back to the 2020 cycle -- seemed to tick all of the boxes.

But again, it was unusual that the national party waited until after the midterms to select the early state lineup for the 2024 calendar. Yet, with control of state governments at stake in those elections, feasibility of movement for a number of applicants was in question.

As the midterms passed, Democrats were left in control in a number of states, but the White House had yet to publicly share its thoughts on the rules; typically an integral component in any in-party's calculus. The precedent set throughout much of the post-reform era has been for presidents to more or less carry over the same rules that got them the nomination in the first place. But on the eve of the DNCRBC meeting to adopt a waivers package for early 2024 states, the Biden White House broke with that protocol, proposing to push Iowa's caucuses out of the early window and shunt New Hampshire into a slot alongside one primary (Nevada) and behind another (South Carolina). 

And that is where things stand after the full DNC has vote in favor of the calendar changes. South Carolina and Nevada are locked in and Michigan has passed legislation to move its primary into the February 27 position called for in the new DNC rules.1 And in that regard, the DNC is ahead of schedule (in some respects) compared to other cycles. Three of the five early states are locked into position without risk of further maneuvering because of the actions of states around them in the pre-window. That should tamp down on calendar chaos to some degree as 2023 progresses.

As this phase -- the national party phase -- of the rules process (mostly) comes to a close, that is where the Democratic side is. [The Republican process continues to have Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, in that order, as the lead-off states on its calendar.] Three early states are in position on the Democratic primary calendar as February 2023 begins, and two states are not. Georgia and New Hampshire now have until June 3 to comply with the DNC waiver requirements or forfeit those waivers and their positions on the early calendar.  

Democratic state parties will begin in the next month or two to publicly share their draft delegate selection plans before finalizing them and sending them off to the DNCRBC by May 3 for review and approval. Although there remains a national party component, this is the state/state party phase of the rules sequence. Much will be said about Georgia and New Hampshire until June, but other states will be maneuvering with respect to their rules (state parties) and calendar positions (mainly state governments).

But it should not be lost on anyone what the Democratic National Committee has done. It has not only broken with its regular rhythms for setting the pre-window lineup of states, it has completely revamped that lineup. And that is a big deal. It is a big deal considering the stink that New Hampshire has already raised and the backlash that Granite state Democrats and those in Iowa will likely to continue to push in this next phase if not into 2024. That entrenched duopoly has proven difficult for national parties to combat because the wherewithal simply is not typically there. Internally (within the party electorate) popular incumbent presidents usually want to glide to renomination in order to prepare for a grueling reelection campaign. Those administrations do not typically invite trouble. In some respects, however, that is what the Biden administration and DNC have done. Yet, that is exactly the sort of "low stakes" environment needed to make those types of rules changes; when the competition is low and new precedents can be set with future cycles in mind. That is what is at stake moving forward and why the DNC is likely to dig in just as much as Iowa and New Hampshire are.  

Below is a live thread on the DNC winter meeting general session when the party was considering the calendar package. 

1 There is a further implementation complication that will require the Michigan legislature to wrap up its business earlier than usual in 2023 so that the primary bill can take effect in time for the presidential primary in the Great Lakes state to actually fall on February 27.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Bill in the Works to Move Ohio Presidential Primary to May

Statehouse News is reporting that legislation is on the way in Columbus to move the presidential primary in Ohio back on the calendar to May. 

Rep. Daniel Troy (D-23rd, Willowick) and eight co-sponsors -- seven Democrats and one Republican -- are behind the legislation:
“Ohio’s influence on that process in my opinion has proven to be dubious at best and it’s time to return to a normal and consistent election schedule," Troy said. 

Troy said moving the presidential primary to May will have another benefit — a shorter political season. With the March primary, he said candidates start running for office right after the November election in the preceding year. He said moving the presidential primary to May would shorten the election season and potentially allow more time for governing and less time for partisan politics.
But despite the various pressures created by a March primary on the heels of off-year elections in November the previous year, Ohio has managed to pull it off every cycle since 1996. There has been some redistricting-related drama in getting and keeping the presidential primary in March in some cycles -- as was the case for 2012 -- but it has consistently been scheduled for and conducted sometime in March. 

This legislation may find a fair hearing in a lower chamber where a bipartisan power-sharing coalition runs the show, but may face stiffer resistance in the Republican-controlled Senate. And that is especially true given that a competitive Republican presidential nomination race is on the horizon.

Competing Oregon Senate Bill Would Move Presidential Primary to Super Tuesday

Earlier in January, a bill was introduced in the Oregon state Senate to move the state's consolidated primary -- including the presidential primary -- up to Super Tuesday. 

SB 499 is not the first legislation in recent years in the Beaver state to propose uprooting the primary from its traditional third Tuesday in May position, and apparently it will not be the last. Now, there is a competing bill that aims to more fully address the obstacles that have stood in the way of past attempts. 

Senator James Manning, Jr. (D-7th, North Eugene) this past week filed SB 804. Like SB 499, the new measure proposes shifting the Oregon consolidated primary up to the first Tuesday in March in presidential years. Keeping the primaries consolidated saves the state from having to foot the bill for two elections in the first half of the year. However, Manning's bill would also move the primary back a week in midterm years to the fourth Tuesday in May. 

Additionally, SB 804 would push the beginning of the Oregon legislative session in presidential primary years to the beginning of May (rather than the beginning of February). This is a common snag that legislation hits in states with presidential primaries tethered to a later, consolidated primaries. Legislators in those situations have tended to shy away from scheduling a primary to occur during a legislative session. It would require them to raise money and campaign during a time when they are changing policy and making budgetary decisions, something that could give the impression of pay-for-play corruption. A March primary in presidential years combined with a May start to that year's legislative session would avoid the bulk of the most direct, possible conflict of interest opportunities. 

That combination of changes to the existing law would smooth the path for a presidential primary date change -- one that brings Oregon voters closer to a position to weigh in on the nominations before the races are effectively over. However, if these sorts of exercises in other states are any guide, then the earlier candidate filing period needed to accommodate the new, earlier primary election may potentially draw the ire of election administrators across the Beaver state. If the altered filing period overlaps too much with elections officials finalizing their work from the off-year election (in the year before a presidential election), then those elections officials could balk at the proposed change. 

So, if one were to handicap the odds of either of these bills passing and becoming law, SB 804 likely stands a better shot. But that does not mean it is out of the woods yet. Neither bill has a confirmed committee hearing as of this time. 

This legislation has been added to FHQ's updated 2024 presidential primary calendar


Thursday, February 2, 2023

How Much Will Democrats' Primary Calendar Change Away from Iowa Affect the Overall Process?

Thursday's episode of the New York Times podcast, The Daily, raised the curtain on changes the Democratic National Committee (DNC) are about to make to the party's presidential primary calendar this weekend in Philadelphia. In A Revolution in How Democrats Pick a President, host Michael Barbaro and Times national political reporter, Adam Nagourney, detailed the important role the Iowa caucuses have played in past Democratic presidential nomination races and what a shift away from that -- from that early calendar tradition -- might mean for 2024 and beyond. And their conversation dipped into familiar territory for those who read this site with any regularity: the unintended consequences of national party rules changes in the presidential nomination process.

Only, the discussion landed on a narrative that pitted diversity gains against retail politics lost. There are definitely trade-offs to the altered primary calendar lineup the DNC is on the cusp of adopting this weekend, but it is not clear that this is one of them. But it was not just about retail politics. The basic story Barbaro and Nagourney told was one of the post-1968 changes to the Democratic presidential nomination process. It was that classic story of the nomination decision being pulled out of smoke-filled rooms and out of the hands of party bosses, decentralized and given over to rank-and-file voters in primaries and caucuses. Losing Iowa and replacing it with South Carolina, in their telling, is to take a step away from a system in which every candidate has a chance. And if one has followed any of the backlash from New Hampshire since the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee adopted the calendar change proposal in December, that should be a familiar storyline. 

But telling the story the South Carolina for Iowa swap in that frame ignores a number of important factors.  First, focus on the states involved. There is now half a century's worth of stories like Jimmy Carter's or Barack Obama's in Iowa; stories of them and countless other candidates of both parties meeting voters, shaking hands, kissing babies and hearing policy concerns. There is a certain mythology that has built up around it all. And that mythology is a part of the fabric of the presidential nomination process in the United States. 

Yet, it is not as if South Carolina has not been a part of the early calendar -- since 1980 on the Republican side and since 2008 in the Democratic process -- and developed its own style of retail politics; its own stories. And even though South Carolina has been behind Iowa and New Hampshire in the order, as the process has become increasingly nationalized, candidate campaign footprints in states deeper into the calendar (like South Carolina and Nevada) have only grown. Yes, South Carolina is larger than Iowa in population, but it is not as if national Democrats were moving California's primary to the front of the queue. 

Second, and on a related note, the emphasis Barbaro and Nagourney place on method of delegate selection -- primary or caucus -- lacked context as well. Part of the story they told was one of trading in the intimacy of the caucuses in Iowa for a primary in a larger state where candidates would inevitably have to focus on advertisements to reach more primary voters. Well, that leaves out the fact that the DNC has been moving away from caucuses for at least the last two cycles. 2020 saw just three states with caucuses before the pandemic hit. And in attempting to protect their first-in-the-nation position on the calendar for 2024, Iowa Democrats had pledged to move to an all-mail, absentee system for the "caucuses." In 2024, Iowa is not even going to be the Iowa of old depicted in the podcast. 

In making those changes, Democrats at both the national and state level have been and are moving toward more participation and less of what Barbaro and Nagourney called the "intimacy" of the caucus process. But that confuses the intimacy of the assembled caucus process with the closeness of retail politics. Some of that may, in fact, be lost in the transition from Iowa to South Carolina. But one does not yet know how much, if any, that will change in 2024. There has not been a cycle in the post-reform era in which Iowa and New Hampshire have not led the pack, and thus no baseline for comparison. And again, South Carolina is not California, and it is smaller than Iowa in terms of area. Retail politics can happen, and has happened, in the Palmetto state.

Look, this calendar change the DNC is likely to adopt in the coming days is a BFD. Lost retail politics and decreased odds of the little guy rising to the nomination may be part of those changes. 

...to some degree.

But that will not be apparent that from a largely uncontested Democratic nomination race in 2024. There may be some shift to the air war over the ground war as it were, but it is not like the party is completely abandoning the concept of an on ramp to the nomination that starts in small states. After all, the beginning of the proposed calendar is still composed of small states. One could argue about the cluster of early, small contests in the first four days with respect to retail politics. But that is far less likely to be of much consequence when the president is likely to seek the Democratic nomination again and do so with (probably) only token opposition.

And to be honest, any decrease in the chances of the Jimmy Carter's of the world in future presidential nomination races is probably less about party elites replacing Iowa and more about the ongoing nationalization of the nomination process; something that the national parties are limited to control anyway.

Bill to Move Pennsylvania Presidential Primary to March Introduced

Earlier this week legislation was filed in the Pennsylvania state Senate to push the presidential primary in the commonwealth up five weeks to the third Tuesday in March.

Senator David G. Argall (R-29th, Shuylkill) and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors -- five other Republicans and four Democrats -- introduced SB 224. The measure would shift the presidential primary as well as those for other offices held in even years away from what has been a traditional position for the Keystone state on the primary calendar in the post-reform era. Only once -- in 2000 -- has Pennsylvania conducted a primary on a date other than the fourth Tuesday in April. [The pandemic forced the primary into June in 2020, but it was initially planned in that traditional position at the end of April.] 

The change would not only shift the Pennsylvania presidential primary out of that typical calendar spot, but would take it out of a mid-Atlantic/northeastern regional primary that has existed in various forms since 2012. That would entail leaving a later position behind where Pennsylvania has tended to be the most delegate-rich prize available to a date already occupied by Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio. March 19 may be earlier, but clear gains from the move are less apparent. On the one hand, voters in the commonwealth would have a higher probability in March rather than April of voting in a contest that has not yet been decided. However, on the other, it would mean sharing the spotlight with other delegate-rich states, one of which -- Florida -- is home to one Republican already in the presidential race (Trump) and another (DeSantis) rumored to join it at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Nevertheless, this bill is now out there, and unlike other similar legislation in previous cycles, this one has both a longer list of sponsors and a bipartisan one. That may help push it through the state Senate. Of course, similar legislation unanimously passed the body in early 2020 (pre-pandemic). The state House may prove an obstacle in 2023 as well, but at least two members have signaled that a bill similar to this one is on the horizon there.

This legislation has been added to FHQ's updated 2024 presidential primary calendar



Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Whitmer's Signature Sends Michigan Presidential Primary to February 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranked Choice Voting in 2024 Presidential Primaries, Part Two

See Part One: Ranked Choice Voting in 2024 Presidential Primaries -- 2023 legislation 

Rules and the National Parties

In part one of this two-part series, FHQ examined states where legislation may expand the reach of ranked choice voting (RCV) into the presidential nomination process. And incremental though that growth may be in the 2024 process, one point raised in that first post remains true: Neither national party has weighed in on ranked choice voting in the nomination process; not in an official capacity in any event. 

Given the partisan pattern observed in the RCV legislating on the state level thus far in the 2023 session, one might expect to see a Democratic National Committee more receptive to the practice and a Republican National Committee more inclined to stand against it. But again, the incremental, and to this point small, advances have not forced either party to act (or react) to RCV adoption on the state level in any corrective way or in an effort to provide guidance to state parties and state legislators. However, just because the national parties have not moved to officially regulate RCV or its expansion does not mean that the issue is not on the national parties' radars with respect to its potential impact on the presidential nomination process.

In fact, Democrats had a series of discussions concerning RCV throughout 2022 in the context of their push to finalize the rules package that will govern the 2024 nomination. To be clear, those efforts did not bear any fruit in terms of actual rules, but the discussions did provide a glimpse into where the national party -- or the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) anyway -- currently stands on the matter. While no rules for or against RCV made the 2024 DNC rules, there was an RCV-related rules change that was considered at the August DNCRBC meeting, a meeting that was initially set aside for making decisions on pre-window waivers for early states. But once the decision was made to punt on finalizing the states to receive waivers until after the midterms, that left considerable time for the panel to more broadly consider a bevy of other potential changes. It is not that those potential rules changes would have been given short shrift in a meeting dominated by the early primary calendar for 2024, but rather, that other possible amendments to the rules could be discussed more fully instead of quickly dispatched, whether for or against, without the calendar on the agenda. 

And so it was with a potential add-on to Rule 14.B brought to the table by David McDonald (WA) and Elaine Kamarck (MA). 

Rule 14.B describes the parameters of the 15 percent threshold presidential candidates must hit in order to win any delegates in any state or subunit therein. RCV can overlap with that process in several ways. In a traditional sense, RCV has been used to identify a majority winner in a contest. The system redistributes votes based on voters' collective preferences until there is a majority winner. But the delegate allocation process in the Democratic Party operates differently. It is not necessarily about candidates winning a majority, but about those candidates who clear that 15 percent barrier either statewide or within the various congressional districts within a state. 

That is an easy enough fix. The cut-off for redistribution can be moved from a majority to 15 percent like what has appeared in New Hampshire legislation attempting to institute RCV in recent years. But that is also what is missing from the RCV law that will be operable in Maine in 2024. That disparity between what is on the books in Maine and what may be codified in other states for 2024 is a reason for national parties to potentially offer guidance to states -- state governments and state parties -- considering changes to delegate selection processes for this current cycle. 

Moreover, another point where RCV and the delegate allocation process cross paths is in how and to whom the 15 percent threshold applies. As an illustration, recall FHQ's [exaggerated] example from part one:
Here is an example. Raymond Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic Party chair, told Politico in making a case for the importance of the first-in-the-nation primary there, that Joe Biden was everyone's second choice in the Granite state primary in 2020. Biden, of course, came in fifth in the contest; something that every recent calendar story on New Hampshire Democrats potentially losing their position notes. And folks, Buckley's statement was figurative. He did not mean that Biden was literally every voter's second choice. But if one were to take him literally and assume that RCV had been in place in New Hampshire for 2020, then Biden would have stood to gain a lot of ground. 

How much ground? 

If the RCV bill considered in the Granite state in 2019 had become law, then three candidates -- Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar -- would have cleared the 15 percent threshold in the first round tabulation. But those three only accounted for 70 percent of the vote statewide. Under RCV, the votes of the remaining 30 percent would be redistributed based on voter preferences for the other various candidates. If one takes Buckley's notion literally -- that Biden was everyone's second choice -- then all of those redistributed votes from candidates under 15 percent would have gone to the eventual Democratic nominee, turning Biden's 8.4 percent into nearly 30 percent and a victory. 
Now, in that example, Biden vaults from fifth place in the initial tabulation to winning once votes have been redistributed under RCV. But who qualifies for delegates in that scenario? Does that 15 percent threshold apply to the results after the first tabulation or the final tabulation? That is a very meaningful distinction. And it appears, given the commentary from the members of the DNCRBC around this potential rules change in August, that rules makers lean toward the former. Biden may have hypothetically been everyone in New Hampshire's second choice in the 2020 presidential primary, but he only received just north of eight percent of first preferences. That falls well short of 15 percent. And more importantly, that hypothetical shift from eight percent among first preferences to around 30 percent and not only winning on a final tally, post-redistribution, but qualifying for delegates is not consistent with the tenor of the current threshold rule. 

But it is issues like those -- who qualifies for delegates and how -- that put reforms like RCV front and center before national party rules makers when those reforms overlap with existing processes. And it was those very issues that McDonald and Kamarck were trying to get out in front of heading into 2024. 

So, what was the proposed change? 

First, here is Rule 14.B as it was in 2020 and how it will be in 2024 (minus the struck line at the end):
Rule 14.B:
States shall allocate district-level delegates and alternates in proportion to the percentage of the primary or caucus vote won in that district by each preference, except that preferences falling below a fifteen percent (15%) threshold shall not be awarded any delegates. Subject to section F. of this rule, no state shall have a threshold above or below fifteen percent (15%). States which use a caucus/convention system, shall specify in their Delegate Selection Plans the caucus level at which such percentages shall be determined.
That is all clear enough. Rule 14.B sets a 15 percent -- no higher, no lower -- threshold to qualify for delegates. Now, here is the rider that McDonald and Kamarck proposed appending to the rule:
Nothing in this Rule is intended to prohibit a State from providing a second choice to a voter who casts a ballot for a candidate who is ineligible to be awarded delegates. A State that intends to provide such a second choice to voters must clearly describe its method for doing so in its proposed Delegate Selection Plan and comply with all regulations of the RBC relating to second choices. Delegates shall be allocated on the basis of the final vote and credentials challenges must be based on the final vote.
This addition is less clear. First of all, the amendment does not directly mention RCV. It neither supports nor opposes its use. But in defending its addition to the rule, McDonald cited a couple of goals: 1) the desire to get out ahead of what is likely to be further experimentation with RCV on the state level for 2024, and 2) setting some guardrails -- particularly candidates qualifying with 15 percent based on first preferences -- to save the DNCRBC some potential headaches during the delegate selection plan review process later in 2023. 

Both of those are noble enough goals. Yet, the language of the above amendment does not exactly spell out either. Also, as some DNCRBC members noted, that rule, if added, can be viewed as if not an indirect endorsement, then an indirect encouragement of RCV by the national party, an encouragement not consistent with the prevailing thinking among the committee members. 

And that is the key factor to tease from this August discussion: the prevailing thinking. The rule did not go anywhere. In fact, MacDonald withdrew the amendment so that the committee would not have to vote up or down on it and either directly or indirectly endorse or oppose RCV.  But the discussion around the possible change was enlightening with respect to where current members on the DNCRBC stand on the reform. Most members who spoke fell somewhere in the middle. The vast middle ground in this case occupies a space where the panel acknowledged that RCV is something that may incrementally advance for the 2024 cycle, but a reform about which the group wanted to remain "agnostic." There was no apparent appetite to craft a rule that would function as a tacit endorsement and would, in turn, potentially open up the floodgates for increased state consideration if not experimentation with RCV. 

In other words, let that experimentation happen organically and on a small scale that the DNCRBC could deal with in mid-2023 during the delegate selection plan approval stage. "Small scale" is important in this case. The only RCV usage in 2020 was in small states with state party-run processes. And the only official addition to this point for 2024 is the state of Maine. All the efforts so far at the state level in 2023 are also in small states. [The proposed RCV systems in New York and New Jersey would take effect after 2024 and those in Virginia already appear to be on life support as the commonwealth's 2023 session quickly comes to a close.] If that is the scale of the RCV expansion, then it is something the DNCRBC can tackle in the review process (even with unforeseen issues outside of RCV likely to present typical review stage problems).

Other members, however, spoke more forcefully against RCV. As if writing from the woods around Walden Pond, Frank Leone (DC) took a Thoreauvian position to "simplify, simplify, simplify." As he said, "I think right now our democracy is under attack. And right now the best way to protect our democracy is to make voting easy and keep counting simple." He went on to say that proponents of RCV had made the case during the 2020 delegate selection review process that RCV was akin to the assembled caucuses made famous in Iowa. Those are the caucuses where voters assemble in preference groups, and those candidate groups who do not make the viability threshold (15 percent) can (physically) move over to another group that did initially qualify in a second round. But, as Leone noted, the party has moved away from caucuses in recent years. To endorse -- directly or indirectly -- RCV would be to walk back that development to some degree.

What Leone's and the additional agnostic viewpoint indicate is something that often gets highlighted in these rules discussions. They often have to maintain a delicate balance between an array of competing interests. And on the issue of RCV what emerged from the DNCRBC meeting in August was a panel that was balancing a potential need to add guardrails around RCV's usage in the 2024 presidential nomination process against an apparent desire to not simultaneously (and indirectly) endorse the reform.

While the efforts to institute RCV on the state level may be driven by Democratic legislators, that may be reflective not of where the whole party is -- or even where the national party is -- but rather where some legislators who happen to be Democratic are on the issue. For its part, the DNC did not weigh in on RCV, not in the rules in any event. But the DNCRBC did leave itself room to provide guidance to state parties outside of the rules -- in its regulations (or how it interprets the application of the rules). State parties will have access to that when finalizing their various delegate selection plans, but without any tacit support for or opposition to RCV.