Monday, August 25, 2014

So, It Turns Out Arizona Has Actually Moved Its Presidential Primary Back on the Calendar

FHQ is still trying to figure out how and/or why,1 but Arizona's presidential primary calendar move slipped under our radar back in March and April when the change happened.

Here's the timeline of the move:
  • John Cavanaugh (R-23rd, Fountain Hills) introduced legislation in the state House charging the Arizona secretary of state with creating an online system for signing nomination petitions among other things. The bill was introduced in late January about two weeks into the 2014 state legislative session. 
  • Other than an section ordering issue within the bill, the legislation was not amended in any way in the House. It passed unanimously almost a month after its introduction on February 24.
  • The bill was transmitted to the state Senate one day later.
  • About a week later on March 4, the relevant amendment was added and unanimously agreed to by the Senate Committee on Elections with a "do pass as amended" distinction:
    • 16-241. Presidential preference election; conduct of election: A. A presidential preference election shall be held on the fourth Tuesday in February IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING MARCH 15 of each year in which the President of the United States is elected to give qualified electors the opportunity to express their preference for the presidential candidate of the political party indicated as their preference by the record of their registration.  No other election may appear on the same ballot as the presidential preference election.
  • The Senate Rules Committee concurred on March 10, clearing the path for the bill to be considered on the Senate floor. 
  • The Senate Committee of the Whole passed the bill -- do pass as amended -- on April 8.
  • That procedural vote cleared the way for the Senate to finally pass the bill -- with just two dissenting votes -- a day later on April 9.
  • Governor Jan Brewer (R) signed the bill into law a week later on April 16, moving the Arizona presidential primary back. 
  1. Importantly, the shift brings Arizona back into compliance with the national party delegate selection rules. Any contest on or after March 1 means a state avoids sanction in 2016. Arizona was docked half its delegation in 2012 by the Republican National Committee for holding a delegate selection event prior to the first Tuesday in March. 
  2. To drive the point home, it is worth noting that Arizona was among the limited number of rogue states that disrupted the Republican calendar in 2012. It won't be from the looks of it in 2016. 
  3. Also, it should be said that the chairman of the RNC Rules Committee is Arizona Republican National Committeeman, Bruce Ash. That may say something about the specificity of the bill. The language in the changes to the Arizona statute go to some length in protecting the traditional Arizona delegate selection process. March 15 is the earliest date on which a state can hold a delegate selection event and allocate delegates in a winner-take-all fashion according to the amended Rules of the Republican Party. The move allows Arizona to continue allocating delegates winner-take-all. 
  4. It is not clear to FHQ what the intended date -- based on the legislation -- of the 2016 Arizona presidential primary originally was/is to be. The statute now places the contest on the Tuesday "immediately following March 15" -- moving it from the last Tuesday in February. That is language that is less problematic in years in which March 15 is not on a Tuesday as it is in 2016. The new statute seems to indicate that the primary will be in March 22, 2016. My point is that the language eliminates March 15 as a date on which the primary can occur when a March 15 date would be compliant with the RNC restrictions on winner-take-all allocation. 
  5. The one factor that may have motivated a March 22 date over a March date for the primary is that the former is a date currently unoccupied on the 2016 calendar. The latter, on the other hand, already has a subregional Missouri/Illinois primary scheduled and may be a landing place for a number of states wanting early dates but also winner-take-all allocation. Of course, March 22 may prove inviting to other states as well. 
  6. Finally, the new law also alters the power given the Arizona governor to change the date of the presidential primary. In both 2004 and 2008, then Arizona governor, Janet Napolitano (D) used her proclamation power to move the presidential primary from the fourth Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday in February; then compliant with national party rules governing delegate selection. In 2012, Governor Jan Brewer (R) threatened to shift the date up -- in further defiance of the national party rules -- but used that threat as leverage to get the RNC to sanction a presidential primary debate in Arizona. Governor Brewer eventually opted not to issue a proclamation, keeping the Arizona primary on the last Tuesday in February but still noncompliant with the national parties' rules. The new law strips out the governor's ability to move the contest to an earlier date. However, the governor retains the power to move the primary to a later date than the one specified (and discussed) above.
Changes could still occur during the 2015 state legislative session that makes Arizona a threat to the calendar. For the time being, though, Arizona is no longer a rogue state.

1 Every state has a different name it seems for its presidential primary. Some call it presidential primary in the existing statute while others call it a presidential preference primary or a presidential preferential primary. Arizona is unique in calling their contest for allocating national convention delegates to presidential candidates a "presidential preference election". It seems like a minor point, but these subtle differences can make it difficult sometimes to track the comings and goings of primary calendar movement. This is one of those times.


H/T: Emily Schultheis for bringing this to my attention.

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