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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