Monday, February 23, 2015

An August Presidential Primary in Montana?

Legislation has been introduced in the Montana state House to push the June primary -- including the presidential primary -- back to August.

State Representative Kathleen Williams (D-61st, Bozeman) formally introduced HB 571 on Wednesday, February 18. The legislation is fairly complex, but basically boils down to the legislature providing itself the leeway to meet in even numbered years. As it stands now, the Montana legislature meets just once every two years during the odd numbered year.

For FHQ's purposes that part of the bill is neither here nor there. However, as a means of continuing to not entangle elections with legislative work, the bill additionally includes a provision to push the consolidated June primary back to the Tuesday after the second Monday in August. The intent is to prevent the even year legislative work from overlapping with elections season (and in particular state legislators running for renomination).

This is a curious one. To move a presidential primary to August is obviously counterproductive. The primary would take place after the national conventions have actually nominated a candidate to run on the November ballot. However, this is not the only instance of this that we have seen over even the last decade.

In 2009 an alternative proposal to eliminate the separate (February) presidential primary in Arkansas initially called for shifting the to-be consolidated primary -- including the presidential primary -- to August. The bill was amended pushing the primary into July and then June. That maneuvering was moot considering Governor Beebe had already signed legislation eliminating the presidential primary and tying it once again to the May preferential primary election.

Two years later, the Kentucky state Senate saw a similar proposal to move a consolidated primary from May to August that ended up in the same place as the legislation in Arkansas.1 The bill did pass the state Senate before getting bottled up in the state House. The idea did come back a year later when another August primary bill was introduced.

Also in 2011, the District of Columbia Council introduced legislation that initially would have set the 2012 presidential primary along with those for other offices for July. That bill was amended -- moving the primary to April -- and later passed and signed into law.

Montana, then, is not alone is this behavior. It is unique, but not unheard of. Still, what is the motivation in pushing a presidential primary beyond the point that an actual nominee has already been selected and subsequently confirmed at the national convention? In DC, the original July primary bill was an effort to comply with the MOVE act (regarding the timely printing and distribution of ballots to military personnel overseas). The Arkansas bill, like the initial one in DC, was amended, so the convention conflict was recognized in that instance. Similar intent was not clear in the Kentucky case. And Montana seems to fit more into the Kentucky group than alongside the District and Arkansas. least for now.

That said, the Montana House State Administration Committee held a hearing on HB 571 on Monday, February 23. The committee seemed convinced that any even year legislative work would be done in time for the regular June primary election, thus negating the need to push it back to August. The bill sponsor, Rep. Williams, had already come with amendments striking out those changes to the primary dates anyway. The committee did not take up that amendment today and furthermore did not vote on any recommendation for the bill. The group is due to meet again in the morning and may take up those matters then.

The members of the committee were concerned and asked questions about the presidential primary occurring after the conventions. Upon advisement from a representative of the Montana secretary of state's office, they even concluded that the Montana presidential primary is non-binding and would not affect delegate selection/allocation.2

These are always interesting bills to consider when they arise, but more often than not if recent history is a guide these bills either go nowhere or are amended once the conventions conflict is realized. That appears as if it will be the case with this Montana legislation.

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for bringing news of this bill to FHQ's attention.

UPDATE (3/11/15): August primary bill appears to be dead in committee

1 For more on the implications of August presidential primaries specific to Arkansas and Kentucky see here.

2 This is false. The primary is advisory on the Republican side, but in 2012 Democrats in Montana used the June primary election as their means of allocating delegates from the Treasure state to the national convention.

Recent Posts:
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