Friday, October 28, 2011

In Massachusetts, Talk of Primary Election Consolidation Increases

New Hampshire may or may not be the last state to set the date of its presidential primary.

That is because, for the second straight cycle, the Massachusetts legislature may decide toward the end of its year-round session to shift the date of the presidential primary in the Bay state. Four years ago, and in the week after New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner set the date of the Granite state primary, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (D) signed into law a measure temporarily bumping the Massachusetts presidential primary from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February.1  Unlike 2008, however, the move in Massachusetts this time around would not be forward, but back.

As FHQ has previously discussed, Massachusetts is an example of a state that is feeling some cross-pressure in 2011 concerning the scheduling of not only its presidential primary but its primaries for state and local offices as well. Compounding the issue are the budgetary constraints facing the Bay state. Since there are financial considerations here and since the state is likely going to be forced to shift the late date on which it holds its primaries for state and local offices,2 there is some pressure on the state to shift up its primaries for state and local offices from September to June to be consolidated with the presidential primary which would be moved from March back to June. And the combined elections would save the state millions of dollars in the process.3

Now, there is legislation (H 1972) to consolidate the primaries that is active and has been since it was introduced in January. However, it has been stuck in committee since then, only having had one hearing on the bill in May. In terms of a timeline moving forward, if the presidential primary is to be consolidated with the primaries for state and local offices, the move would likely have to be made during the closing days of the current 2011 session. The filing deadline for the presidential primary is set for 60 days prior to the primary -- during the first week in January -- which is a point that overlaps with the time that the legislature will reconvene in 2012. Time will be short, in other words, on a presidential primary move. The General Court would have more time if the objective is only to move the September primary to June, leaving the presidential primary where it is.

There are a lot of ifs accumulating here, but if that move is to be made it would start in the Joint Committee on Election Laws and then move on to the two chambers for consideration. That committee is set to meet on Wednesday, November 2, but H 1972 is not on the agenda.

Again, there is only some chatter of support behind the idea of consolidating the primaries out there right now. Nothing official has surfaced. But New Hampshire may not be the last state to make a decision concerning the date on which its presidential primary will be held. Massachusetts may weigh in later as it did four years ago,  but it will not in any way disrupt the front of the calendar. The back end of the calendar, maybe, but not the front.

1 The first Tuesday in February was the earliest the national parties were allowing states to hold contests during the 2008 cycle and Massachusetts joined nearly 25 other states on that date. The change of law in late 2007 only moved the presidential primary up for the 2008 cycle; meaning that the date reverted to the first Tuesday in March for 2012 and any subsequent cycles.

2 The guidelines put in place by the MOVE act -- a law protecting military personnel overseas -- require a 45 day window between the completion of the nomination process and the date of the general election. That would include the primary election and any recounts or challenges beyond that. In turn, that means that the Massachusetts primary for state and local offices in September would be in violation of those guidelines.

3 Secretary of State William Galvin asked the state legislature for an additional $3.5 million during the budget discussions earlier in the year just to ensure that the presidential primary could be adequately funded.

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