Friday, January 23, 2015

Pair of Bills Propose Earlier Presidential Primary in Connecticut

Two bills introduced in the Connecticut state Senate this morning would alter the position of the Nutmeg state presidential primary in 2016. Both pieces of legislation were sponsored by minority party Republicans, but are not replicas of each other.1 One is actually quite unique.

Senator Joe Markley (R-16th, Cheshire) put forth SB 610, which would shift the Connecticut presidential primary from the last Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday in March. Now, it should be noted that Connecticut moved from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February for the 2008 cycle. That move brought the presidential primary there back to the earliest allowed date according to national party rules at the time. When those rules changed for the 2012 electoral cycle, Connecticut was one of those 18 states that had to move back to comply with the rules eliminating February contests. Instead of opting to move back a month to the then newly established earliest date -- the first Tuesday in March -- Democratic-controlled Connecticut decided to move back in to April to hold a primary concurrently with contests in Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.  Democratic states with non-compliant primaries were much more likely to move to late March and even April dates than non-compliant states under unified Republican control.

Now, it appears that at least some elected Republicans in the Nutmeg state want to reverse course and hold an earlier primary in 2016. But they -- along with Democrats in the state Senate -- will have a couple of options to discuss.

SB 610 shifts the presidential primary to the first Tuesday in March, but SB 599 -- introduced by Senator Michael A. McLachlan (R-24th, Bethel) and co-sponsored by Representative Richard A. Smith (R-108th, New Fairfield) on the House side -- would move only the Republican presidential primary in Connecticut and move it to the first Thursday in March.

This one is quirky for a couple of reasons:

First, the bill proposes splitting up the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries. The Republican contest would move to March while the Democratic contest would continue to be scheduled for April. This happens in some states, but typically it means that one party has opted into the state-funded primary election while the other major party has opted to fund its own (usually) caucuses to select and allocate delegates. We also see this in states where both parties conduct caucuses. Those cross-party contests are sometimes on the same date, but often not. With the exception of South Carolina, states do not often fund two separate presidential primary elections.2 It is expensive. That could be a roadblock to minority party Republicans trying to find support for this measure.

The other strange thing about this second bill -- SB 599 -- is that it seeks to move the primary from a Tuesday in April to a nontraditional Thursday position in March. This would appear to be a nod to the reality that the first Tuesday in March -- the earliest allowed date -- may be a crowded slot on the calendar. It does have a southern flavor to it at this point and looks to be getting even more so, but could be attractive to any state, southern or not, seeking to attempt to influence the presidential nomination races. Moving to a Thursday may achieve the attention while avoiding the crowd.

Of course, the expenditure for the separate contest kind of cancels out the potential good a nontraditional Thursday, March 3 primary might have.

Both bills offer something for Connecticut lawmakers trying to gain the state some influence in the process (if not just putting voters in a position to vote ahead of the point on the calendar on which one candidate wraps up the nomination). Moving to March 1 -- as called for in SB 610 -- would mean a primary on the likely SEC primary date, but all the non-southern states on March 1 are all northeastern neighbors of Connecticut -- Massachusetts and Vermont. Small though that collection of states may be, they would collectively serve as some counterbalance to the series of southern contests. Most likely, however, they would be ignored as most candidates focus on the southern states with more delegates.

That is what makes the Thursday option potentially more attractive -- minus the expenditure. Connecticut would be the only contest on that date in between the SEC primary and the Louisiana primary that following weekend. And the proposal is not as off-the-wall as it may seem on the surface. Both Georgia and Florida considered Thursday primaries in 2012.

Both bills now head off for consideration in the Joint Committee on Government Administration and Elections.

1 This differs from the two bills introduced to move the presidential primary in Mississippi on parallel tracks, one in each chamber.

2 South Carolina has had separate dates for the parties' presidential primaries, but does that to provide some flexibility to state parties that are also attempting to maintain the first in the South spot on the calendar. There is legislation currently before the South Carolina legislature to merge those two primaries.

Recent Posts:
Companion Bills Introduced to Move Mississippi Presidential Primary into SEC Primary Position

Primary Movement, 2015 v. 2011

State Legislatures Move Most Presidential Primaries. ...But They Have to Change State Law First

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