Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Arizona + Nevada = 2016 Primary Calendar Uproar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry up and wait.

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

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

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

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

Recent Posts:
Florida Makes First 2016 Presidential Primary Move

Nevada Bill Would Create January Presidential Primary

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