Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Arkansas Bid to Join SEC Primary Is In

Legislation was filed in the Arkansas state Senate on Tuesday, February 17 to create a separate presidential primary election and schedule it for the first Tuesday in March.

State Senator Gary Stubblefield (R-6th, Branch) introduced SB 389 which would for a third time establish a separate presidential primary in the Natural state. For most of the post-reform era, Arkansas has held its regular primary -- which included a vote for presidential preference -- on the next to last Tuesday in May. However, before the 1988 cycle and the 2008 cycle, legislators in Arkansas created and funded a separate presidential primary in order to have an earlier election in the state to decide the allocation of delegates to the national conventions. In both cases, Arkansas was either overshadowed by larger neighbors (1988) or ignored because candidates with Arkansas ties (Clinton and Huckabee) were seeking the presidential nominations of their respective parties (2008). And in both cases, legislators quickly reversed course and consolidated the presidential primary with the May primaries for other offices.

Now, as in the lead up to 1988, Arkansas is once again attempting to join forces with its southern neighbors to affect the next (2016) presidential nominations process and hoping the third time is the charm. But getting there may not be as easy as it is in other southern states seeking to join the SEC primary on March 1. Unlike Alabama (that reestablished a consolidated primary but broke from tradition by placing it in March and not June in 2011) or Mississippi (which established and maintained consolidated primaries in March years ago), Arkansas has to justify the creation and funding of a separate presidential primary election in March. That fact is not necessarily prohibitive, but it adds a layer of complexity to the Arkansas decision-making calculus that does not exist in other states across the South.

There is no price tag specified in the bill, but the state will pick up the tab through the State Board of Elections. As of now the Board appropriations legislation does not include a substantial increase for fiscal years 2015-2016 than it did two years ago for 2013-2014. The separate presidential primary was estimated to have cost Arkansas $1.7 million in 2008.

The one thing that is different now as compared to the past in Arkansas is that the Republican Party is in unified control of the state government. The possibility of a competitive if not wide open Republican nomination race may make that partisan control more relevant in this case.

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