Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Missouri Once Again Initiates an Attempt at Presidential Primary Calendar Compliance

For the fourth consecutive year now efforts are underway in the Missouri General Assembly to move the Show Me state presidential primary from February into a compliant position later on the primary calendar. The state legislature was actually closest to shifting the primary back in 2011 when a bill designed to move the presidential primary back to March passed both chambers but was vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon (D) for reasons unrelated to the primary. Since that point in mid-2011, the legislature has been stuck in place or seemingly moving in reverse on the matter of the presidential primary scheduling. Efforts during a special session in the late summer of 2011 and during the regular sessions of 2012 and 2013 failed to gain any traction.

Will the fourth time be the charm?

Considering none of the primary-specific bills even got out of committee -- much less had hearings -- in 2012 and 2013, this current second session of the 97th General Assembly is heading in the right direction. There are two bills -- one in the House and one in the Senate -- that would shift back the date of the Missouri presidential primary. Both HB 1902 and SB 892 originally called for pushing back the primary date from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in February to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in April. The House bill -- introduced last week by Representative Tony Dugger (R-141, Wright, Webster) -- has already made it through the Committee on Elections in an amended form on a 10-0 vote with a "Do Pass" designation. The committee substitute now heading to the House Committee on Rules now differs from the Senate version in that the landing spot for the primary on the calendar is no longer in April. Instead, the Committee on Elections passed a version that would shift the presidential primary to the second Tuesday after the first Tuesday in March. That would be March 15 in the 2016 presidential election cycle.

There are a couple of things to note about these developments in the Show Me state:
1) To the extent the efforts to move the presidential primary have been derailed in the time since late 2011, it has been a function of a difference of opinion across chambers in the Missouri General Assembly. The House and Senate were in agreement about the move to March during the regular session in 2011, but that was the point of the last agreement on this issue between the chambers. Now that the House and Senate versions of these two related presidential primary bills differ, one has to wonder whether or if recent history will repeat itself.

2) One thing that might gird against the notion of inter-chamber division this time is that the change in the committee substitute in the House is clearly a nod to the recent RNC rules changes. Missouri Republicans, before the caucuses diversion in 2012, have traditionally allocated delegates in a winner-take-all manner. The move to April was presumably designed to protect that. But now that the RNC has narrowed its proportionality window a bit, there is no need to move the Missouri primary back to April. March 15 is where winner-take-all allocation is first allowed on the 2016 primary calendar; right where Missouri would be under HB 1902.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

An SEC Primary in 2016? Not so fast… (Part I)

Last week at the National Association of Secretaries of State meeting in Washington, Georgia secretary of state, Brian Kemp (R), rolled out a proposal for the alignment of southern presidential primaries on the first Tuesday in March in 2016. And Secretary Kemp has gotten some "positive feedback" on the plan from others in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.1

That's all well and good, but let's have a bit of a look under the hood on this thing. In the first part, FHQ will look at those states named above that have expressed an interest in the possibility of a southeastern regional primary.

The date that Secretary Kemp has proposed for what has been affectionately called the SEC primary is March 1. That is the first date on which states other than the four carve-outs -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- can hold delegate selection events under the actual (RNC) or expected (DNC) rules. In other words, that may be an attractive landing point for any number of states (see Super Tuesday on February 5, 2008). As of now, March 1 already has a southern flavor. Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are scheduled for that date according to current state laws in each. Adding Georgia to the mix gives the South the clearest and strongest regional voice on that date. That would make five out of the eight states southern with Massachusetts and Vermont serving as only a token regional counterweight.

But what is the likelihood that others (from the South) join those four (or five if one counts Georgia) on March 1?

Georgia is unique in that the state legislature ceded the authority to set the date of the Peach state presidential primary to the secretary of state in 2011. That makes Georgia like New Hampshire in that regard. Basically what that transfer of power means is that Georgia, like New Hampshire, is better able to move its presidential primary around without the potential for gridlock or just inaction on the part of a state legislature. Getting Georgia to March 1, then, is an easier task than it will be for other states.

And there will be something of a dilemma in the other states to whom that Secretary Kemp has reached out. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi will have push a date change through their legislatures. Secretaries of state in each of those states can (attempt to) initiate the legislative process on such moves, but that is no guarantee that there will actually be any shifting. The reason there is no guarantee is that such a proposal raises questions about the expected utility of a move. Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi are already in March.

What difference does it make to move up a week (as is the case in Alabama and Mississippi) or two-ish (for Louisiana's now customary Saturday primary)?

In Alabama and Mississippi, the expected cost or benefit of a move may or may not be financial. Both are already in March, so the trade-off is more a matter of going with a larger group of southern states and risking getting lost in the shuffle or sticking with a smaller subregional primary on a date a week later when they may collectively and effectively counterbalance the Ohio primary on the same date. That is a tougher question to answer when both dates -- the first and second Tuesday in March -- are potentially attractive landing points on the calendar for a number of states. Getting lost in the shuffle may be a foregone conclusion when it is all said and done and the calendar is finalized in late 2015.

The gamble is similar in Louisiana in that the internal debate is a function of choosing between a date where they may have a greater share of the spotlight later on (if the nomination races are still going in late March) and a date when many other southern states hold their contests; a proposition the nets the Pelican state some regional clout but not necessarily direct attention from the candidates. The situation in Louisiana is complicated by the fact that the state has utilized a Saturday primary the last two cycles. Part of that is designed to reserve a spot on the presidential primary stage where Louisiana stands alone or with other smaller and/or caucuses states. The spotlight favors them.

Legislators in Arkansas face a slightly different calculus. First of all, the new RNC rules almost force Arkansas to consider moving up. Currently scheduled for the next to last Tuesday in May, the Arkansas primary falls at a point on the calendar after the cutoff for when primaries will need to be held to accommodate a late June or early to mid-July Republican convention. But that only adds to the classic late state dilemma: move everything up (presidential primary, state and local primaries and all) or create a separate presidential primary that is easier to move around (but also costs the state additional election funds)? Arkansas has twice gone the latter route (1988 and 2008) and twice has gotten essentially no bang for its buck, the extra expenditure got the state nothing in the way of advertising dollars or candidate attention. How ready and willing is Arkansas going to be to repeat that pattern? The alternative -- moving a consolidated set of primaries to an earlier date -- has its own pitfalls. Such a move impacts state legislators tasked with making the move in the first place. Moving a consolidated primary up lengthens a state legislators general election campaign. It also potentially means that the primary campaign overlaps with the state legislative sessions which means the primary phase campaigning will be happening during the state legislative session. Both potentially make legislators' decisions that much more difficult.

Despite officials being open to the idea of a regional primary in the southeast, that does not necessarily mean that it will be enough to overcome the questions that will be raised during state legislative efforts to move primary dates for 2016 around. Those questions represent potential roadblocks in the legislative process that could derail movement to earlier positions on the primary calendar.

Of course, that is not all that complicates the potential effectiveness of this proposal or its intended implementation. FHQ will examine the other issues attendant to this proposal that may pop up in the intervening period between now and 2016 in part two.

1 Below is the press release from Secretary Kemp's office yesterday:

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Monday, February 17, 2014

May Presidential Primary Could Be on the Move in Nebraska

Add Nebraska to the list of states reacting -- directly or indirectly -- to the recent Republican National Committee (delegate selection) rules changes.

As it stands now, Nebraska is slated to have a presidential preference primary election on the first Tuesday after the second Monday in May. That would be May 10, 2016. There is, however, a movement afoot to add an amendment to a broader elections bill before the state legislature that would shift that date up by a month into April. From the vantage point of early 2014, that may be a shrewd decision on at least one front: The first Tuesday after the second Monday in April, 2016 is in the middle of an otherwise vacant portion of the the 2016 presidential primary calendar. If state actors, then, are seeking to maximize the impact Nebraska voters may have on the nominations processes in 2016, moving to a date on which Nebraska is the only game in town, may work to their advantage.1

Of course, there are potential roadblocks to this.

Moving the primary up, triggers the classic dilemma for the late (presidential primary) state -- like Nebraska -- with concurrent primaries for the presidential nomination among a host of state and local offices. Move everything up or create and fund a separate and earlier presidential primary? As the article from the Omaha World Herald indicates, the former affects state legislators' primaries while the latter may be viewed as less than cost-effective. Moving everything to April extends the general election campaign for state legislators by a month, meaning more work for the very people making this change. And creating a separate presidential primary does not seem to be on the table.

Nebraska Democrats also seem to have indicated that they are going to continue operating outside of the state-funded primary option. Since 2008, Nebraska Democrats have selected delegates through a party-funded caucuses/convention format that allows them to begin their process earlier than is possible with the May primary funded by the state.

But it is on that particular point where this gets even more complicated. The bill (LB 1048) that will supposedly contain the amendment provision that would move up the date of the primary also sets the parameters around other parts of the delegate selection process in the Cornhusker state:
  1. State parties have to submit delegate selection plans to the Nebraska Secretary of State by December 1 in the year prior to the presidential election.
  2. Those plans should allocate at least 80% of the total number of delegates to candidates based on the results of a primary or caucuses.
  3. The plans must also specify how or if those delegates would be bound to particular candidates.
  4. Finally, those plans must also set a minimum threshold of 15% in the primary for a candidate to eligible for any delegates whether allocated proportionally or in a winner-take-all manner.
All of this mostly aligns with how both Nebraska Democrats and Republicans allocated delegates in 2012. The one exception is that the Republican primary process has always been advisory to the caucus/convention process.2 LB 1048 seeks to end the advisory nature of the primary, eliminating the provisions concerning the state conventions from the current law and adding a binding mechanism to any primary or caucuses utilized by the parties.

What may look like a good idea on paper -- moving the date up -- may not look as good once partisans (in the nonpartisan, unicameral Nebraska state legislature) get a closer look at what some of the other provisions in the bill will do to the delegate selection process. There are a number of items that may not sit well with various groups.

1 It is also true that that position may not prove advantageous at all. Such an incremental shift may still come after the point at which the nomination has been decided, depending on how other states move around and how the preceding contests have allocated delegates to the various candidates.

2 Truth be told, there is a Democratic primary election as well on that May primary ballot, but Democrats abandoned it for the 2008 cycle, meaning that the primary vote in both the major party presidential primaries was next to meaningless.

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