Monday, May 23, 2011

Democratic-Sponsored Bills to Move Minnesota Presidential Precinct Caucuses Appear Dead

On the final day of the 2011 Minnesota state legislative session, two bills (one each in the state House and Senate) introduced in March appear ready to expire for the year along with the session. Both bills seem to have been proposed in reaction to the revelation back at the beginning of March that a provision in the state's election law had been triggered, moving the 2012 precinct caucuses to the first Tuesday in February. Since the two political parties had failed to agree on and/or submit a date for the presidential precinct caucuses, the law -- changed in 2008 -- automatically designated the first Tuesday in February as that date. Given the fact that February contests outside of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina were prohibited by the DNC's and RNC's informally coordinated delegate selection rules, that shift put (or would put) Minnesota in violation of the rules, making the state parties' national convention delegations vulnerable to the penalties associated with those rules.

Democrats in the Minnesota legislature, whether acting in accordance with the Democratic delegate selection rules or not (see Rule 20.C.11), soon thereafter proposed legislation in both the state House (HF 986) and Senate (SF 696). What the bills do, though, is merely change the date on which the caucuses occur -- from the first Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday in March -- should the chairs of the two state parties not jointly submit an alternate date. It is not clear whether that action would be (or in light of the fact that after today it will be moot, would have been) sufficient to change in any way the date of the 2012 caucuses. The trigger has already been tripped and set in place the election for the first Tuesday in February next year. That happened on March 1, and because neither bill has an "effective on" date, there is no way of knowing if the provisions of the House and Senate bills are retroactive.2

Again, with both bills bottled up in committee virtually since they were introduced in March and with the session adjourning today, the point is moot. The date looks to be set in stone for February 7, 2012, which on its face would put both state parties in violation of national party rules. In reality, only the Democrats would suffer. Since state Republicans don't allocate any delegates during the initial step of the nomination process -- that comes at the later convention -- they are not penalized under RNC rules. No step, binding or otherwise, can occur before the first Tuesday in March on the Democratic side. That is why Minnesota Democrats have submitted a delegate selection plan to the DNC with the February 7 date, but with the addendum that the results will not be released until March 6. That is unlikely to pass muster with the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee.

The point here is that Republicans in the majority in both houses of the Minnesota legislature faced no urgency to move the date of the caucuses. It did not affect them in the least. Democrats, then, found themselves in the unenviable position of requiring a change of the election law but were absent the means of affecting that change.

Links to this legislation will be added to the 2012 presidential primary calendar and to the Presidential Primary Bills Before State Legislatures section of the left side bar.

1 The rule provides some cover for non-compliant states where the Democratic legislative minorities in which make some effort to change state laws, but ultimately do so in futility (see Florida in 2008 for an example. Democrats in the legislature voted for the plan to move the Florida primary to January and then argued when the state was in hot water with the DNC that Democratic state legislators were at the mercy of the Republican majorities in both houses. In other words, those legislators had done little to prevent -- and even supported -- the move.).

2 This does happen. The bill signed into law moving the Idaho primaries up a week was signed in late February of this year, but was effectively as of January 1, 2011, a date nearly two months prior.


astrojob said...

How many other states hold caucuses that aren't binding? I remember in 2008, you had early February caucuses in ME, AK, MN, ND, KS, and WA. Is Minnesota the only one of those with caucuses that aren't binding towards delegate allocation? Because if not, then I guess some of those other states might end up sticking with early February as well, since they're not going to suffer any delegate penalties for it.

I would assume that if there are several non-binding caucuses in early Feb., that IA and NH would still consider that a threat, and move their contests into January, to maintain their first in the nation status, but I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on that.

Josh Putnam said...

I kicked my response into a separate post.