Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why Getting Arkansas into an SEC Primary is More Difficult

As the 2015 state legislative sessions draw nearer, primary movement for the 2016 cycle is back on the radar. Lately, much of that discussion has centered on the possibility of a southern regional primary forming on the first date allowed by the national parties, March 1. As FHQ has mentioned previously, this effort is being spearheaded by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R). Secretary Kemp has reached out to his counterparts in a number of other SEC states to gauge their interest in their states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi -- joining Georgia (and a number of other southern and border states) on March 1.

Louisiana has already bumped their primary up in 2014 and is not necessarily eager to shift -- even if only slightly -- again.

Alabama and Mississippi coordinated their primary dates on the second Tuesday in March for 2012. Neither state would seemingly face too much resistance to moving up another week for 2016.

In Georgia, the power to set the presidential primary date lies with the secretary of state and Kemp seems more than inclined to keep Georgia on the first Tuesday in March for a second straight cycle.

There is also some interest in Arkansas, but the decision-making calculus on moving the presidential primary is different in the Natural state than it is in the other states. That is true for a few reasons:

When the Arkansas presidential primary was shifted up for the 1988 and 2008 cycles, the decision was made to create an all new and separate presidential primary election at an earlier point on the calendar. Traditionally, the majority of Arkansas primary elections have been consolidated in mid- to late May. In 1988 and 2008, everything but the presidential primary stayed in May while a presidential primary was created and moved into March and February, respectively.

Relatedly, to do that again, Arkansas state legislators would have to consider whether to incur the costs associated with a separate presidential primary as has been the case in the past. In 2008, that meant an extra $1.7 million to conduct that additional election. The alternative is to do what Alabama and Mississippi have done: consolidate all primary elections on the earlier presidential primary date. Mississippi has been doing this for years, but Alabama shifted both its presidential primary from February to March and its other primaries from June to March in 2008.

Arkansas could follow suit. But there is one catch that was raised in 2009 when Arkansas legislators were considering (and ultimately deciding on) eliminating the presidential primary and consolidating it with the other 2012 primaries. A constitutional amendment was passed by Arkansas voters in 2008 that moved the state legislatures sessions from biennially to annually. Annual sessions meant that the possibility existed for campaigning and fundraising to take place (for state legislators) during the state legislative session, violating a self-imposed rule (for those activities not to overlap). A March 1 [consolidated] primary would fall in the midst of the 2016 state legislative session.

So, in Arkansas it is a decision between the financial costs of creating and scheduling an earlier presidential primary or breaking the norm of state legislators campaigning/fundraising during their legislative session. The former has been the (less cost-effective) precedent in Arkansas in the past while the latter will potentially serve as a deterrent to moving up. Every additional roadblock makes moving a presidential primary forward and joining the proposed SEC primary that much more difficult, and Arkansas has a list of obstacles that other southern states involved do not have. That does not mean the presidential primary in the Natural state will not end up on March 1. Rather, it does indicate a more difficult path to that end.

Recent Posts:
But Southern States Will Have to Be Proportional

Louisiana not inclined to join 'SEC' presidential primary day in 2016

A Couple of Reasons the 2016 Texas Presidential Primary Isn't Going Anywhere

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