Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Date of 2016 Colorado Republican Caucuses Remains Unsettled

With New York officially moving back into compliance with national party delegate selection rules and North Carolina inching in that direction too, Colorado is the only state with any ties to a February primary/caucus position that is not also a carve-out state. Under Colorado state law, parties can call caucuses in a presidential primary year for either the first Tuesday in February or the first Tuesday in March. Democrats in the Centennial state have already staked a claim to the March 1 date, but on the Republican side, the choice is still unclear.

According to Colorado Republican Party chief of staff, Tyler Hart, that decision likely will not be made until late September (just prior to the October 1 Republican National Committee deadline by which state parties are required to have finalized delegate selection plans). The Colorado Republican Party Executive Committee will meet to discuss the options in a late August meeting and then the full State Central Committee will vote on the date as well as the method of delegate allocation.

All of this hinges on whether the party votes to hold a straw poll (to determine presidential preference). If the State Central Committee opts against a straw poll, then the caucuses are likely to be scheduled on the first Tuesday in February date; February 2 (the day after the proposed February 1 Iowa caucuses). Recall that in 2012, Colorado Republicans held early February caucuses, but conducted a non-binding straw poll that Rick Santorum won. Any straw poll vote like that -- concurrent with precinct caucuses -- in 2016 would bind any subsequent delegate allocation in the state based on rules changes that came out of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The rules change was partially motivated by contests like those in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri that had beauty contest votes that had little or no bearing on the simultaneous and subsequent delegate selection process (through precinct caucuses to county/district caucuses to the state convention).

Attempting to thread that needle -- early caucuses with no direct presidential preference vote1 -- echoes to some degree the experience Minnesota Republicans earlier this year. Minnesota was in a similar boat with Colorado in 2012 as alluded to above. Both state parties held early February caucuses and both parties allowed caucus participants to vote on their presidential preference in meaningless straw poll votes. However, both now face a cycle that will operate under a set of rules that prohibit a repeat of the non-binding straw polls at caucuses.

Minnesota Republicans, after agreeing with Democrats in the Gopher state to hold caucuses on March 1 next year, petitioned the RNC to allow its delegation to remain unbound heading to the national convention in Cleveland next July as has been the custom in Minnesota throughout the post-reform era. The party even considered skipping its own straw poll (with the March 1 caucuses) as a means of circumventing the new binding rules. Minnesota Republicans technically could not have gotten away with the maneuver since the state law requires a straw poll vote. Regardless, the RNC denied the request to allow the Minnesota delegation to remain unbound heading into the national convention. According to reports out the state at the time, that ruling did not address the potential for not holding a straw poll vote.

This is what Colorado Republicans are also considering now. And it is likely something that the RNC will have to address if the state party votes to go forward with a plan to forgo the straw poll. As the caucuses are likely to indirectly affect the delegate selection process (who the delegates are and are aligned with), the likelihood of it ending up like Minnesota -- request denied -- is high.

But the Colorado Republican Party could avoid all of that by choosing the March option for its 2016 caucuses. That decision will not (officially) come until September though.

1 Instead caucusgoers would be voting on delegate candidates (likely) aligned with particular candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Delegates would be selected/elected from that pool of (aligned) delegate candidates to move on to the next step of the caucus/convention process.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kansas Republicans Set Delegate Allocation Rules for 2016

Despite reports that the Kansas Republican Party set its caucus date at its midyear convention on Saturday, July 25, the real headline came from changes to the party's delegate allocation process.

The Lawrence Journal-World ran a story late Saturday that Kansas Republicans had set the date of their 2016 caucuses for March 5 at their Saturday meeting. However, that decision was tentatively made back in January and formalized thereafter. Party chair, Kelly Arnold, testified before a Kansas legislative committee considering a bill to permanently cancel the perpetually cancelled Kansas presidential primary in March (2015) that the party would hold caucuses on March 5.1 The party website also reflected that decision at that time.

The question about the caucuses was less when on Saturday than it was how. As in "How will Kansas Republicans allocate delegates to candidates in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process?" There were two main differences in the plan adopted that are departures from the delegate allocation plan the Kansas Republican Party utilized in 2012.

First, due to the tighter definition of proportionality that the Republican National Committee has in place for contests within the March 1-14 proportionality window in 2016, Sunflower state Republicans had to alter the manner in which its congressional district delegates will be allocated. Whereas it was fine in 2012 to allocate those congressional district delegates on a winner-take-all basis (while the statewide/at-large delegates were proportionally allocated) while remaining compliant with the proportionality rules, in 2016 it will not be. Those congressional district delegates now have to be allocated proportionally as well.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Kansas Republicans lowered the threshold for receiving delegates -- congressional district or at-large -- from 20% to 10%. Strategically, that lowers if not eliminates the need for the party to make rules accounting for the possibility that no candidate crosses the threshold to receive delegates. Scheduled over a month after the Iowa caucuses are likely to be held, the March 5 Kansas Republican caucuses will see a field winnowed from the 16 candidates who have formally announced runs (as of July 2015).

Functionally, though, the lowered threshold means that more candidates are likely to qualify for delegates in 2016 than was the case in 2012. Only Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney cleared the 20% threshold the 2012 caucuses. Under the newly adopted 2016 rules, however, both Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul would also have been allocated delegates in 2012. The loser in the change -- if the 2016 rules had been used in 2012 -- would have been Rick Santorum. Instead of a 33-7 Santorum to Romney delegate distribution, Santorum likely would have claimed roughly 23 delegates to 8 for Romney, 5 for Paul and 4 for Gingrich.

And that difference is a direct reflection of both of those rules changes for 2016: 1) proportionally allocating congressional district delegates and 2) lowering the threshold for qualifying for delegates.

There is one more factor to note in closing on this discussion of the Kansas Republican caucus rules for 2016. The three automatic delegates -- the party chair, national committeeman and national committeewoman -- are all still allocated to the statewide winner of the caucuses. That portion of the allocation rules is unchanged; a tiny winner-take-all remnant that carries over to 2016.

1 Arnold made it clear that the caucuses "will" take place on March 5 in that testimony, separating that distinction/decision from the caucuses planning that was still ongoing at that point.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Cuomo Signs Bill Setting 2016 New York Presidential Primary for April 19

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) on Thursday, July 23 signed S 5958 into law. The new law sets the 2016 presidential primary in the Empire state for April 19, moving the election back from the first Tuesday in February.

The 2012 New York primary followed a similar trajectory. The legislature moved the 2012 primary to the fourth Tuesday in April from the first Tuesday in February during its 2011 session. However, that action expired at the end of calendar year 2012. That returned the New York presidential primary to February and forced the legislature to again consider the calendar position of the presidential primary for the 2016 cycle.

While the 2011 and 2015 primary shifts were similar, the end result is slightly different. New Yorkers went to the polls alongside primary voters in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in 2012. That late regional primary bolstered the (Democratic) delegate totals in each of the five states. Last month it appeared that New York would be headed for a similar position for 2016 with the same four other states plus Maryland. However, due to a conflict between the date of those other states' primaries (April 26) and the Passover holidays, legislators in New York settled on a presidential primary date a week earlier on the calendar, April 19.

At this point, New York is the only state with a primary or caucus on that date. Given how late it is -- both in the sequence of states setting dates in 2015 but also the sequence on the primary calendar itself -- that is unlikely to change. New York will likely stand alone on April 19.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

March 15 Presidential Primary Bill Unanimously Passes North Carolina State Senate

The North Carolina state Senate on Tuesday, July 21 passed the committee substitute to HB 373 by a 45-0 vote on its second read and then without dissent on a voice vote on its third read. The measure to schedule the 2016 North Carolina presidential primary for March 15 now heads to the House for concurrence.

This legislation would untether the North Carolina presidential primary from the South Carolina primary for the 2016 cycle alone and align the election with similar contests in Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio. After 2016 the statute would revert to its previous version; scheduling the presidential primary for the Tuesday following the South Carolina primary.

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March 8 the Target Date for Washington State Presidential Primary

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R) is still a proponent of a March 8 presidential primary in the Evergreen state. However, a bipartisan August meeting including her and nine state legislators will decide whether the election stays in late May, moves to March 8 or shifts to some other date.

Both parties will also allocate delegates through caucuses, but only Washington Republicans will use the primary to determine a portion of its allocation. The primary will be a beauty contest for Washington Democrats.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

North Carolina Committee Favorably Reports March 15 Presidential Primary Bill

The North Carolina state Senate Committee on Redistricting on Monday, July 20, unanimously passed the committee substitute to H 373. The amended bill scrapped the original language about paper ballots and inserted several provisions detailing the procedure behind the 2016 presidential primary in the Tar Heel state.

The bill would set March 15 as the date of the 2016 presidential primary and that primary only. After the 2016 cycle the position would revert to the position on the calendar as called for in current state law; tethered to the South Carolina presidential primary. The legislation favorably reported by the committee to the floor would also change the method of allocation in the state from proportional to winner-take-all (while also allowing state Democrats and out to continue holding a proportional primary).

For more, see FHQ's analysis of the changes from this past weekend.

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Slivers of the Vote

The 2016 presidential election cycle has reached the point where FHQ gets nitpicky about the small stuff. Well, it is important material that is often treated as an afterthought with little or no actual thought. That was what went through my head in reading Patrick Healy's piece in the New York Times on the expansive Republican field of presidential candidates on Saturday.

Look, it is an important story. The size of the Republican field is to 2016 what the primary calendar was to 2008 or what the primary calendar and allocation rules changes were to 2012. All were or are to their respective cycles the monkeywrench in campaign headquarters across the country, the main driver of uncertainty in those races for the nomination.

But here's the thing: All of this requires some precision. Compared to 2012, the primary calendar for 2016 is as clear as an unmuddied lake. Compared to 2012 and because of the greater certainty surrounding the primary calendar, campaigns have a pretty good feel for what the allocation rules will be. However, where the calendar and the rules cross paths with a group of candidates, the number of which now approaches 20, there is uncertainty and a need for careful consideration.1

That consideration was lacking in what was probably a throw-away line in just the second paragraph of Healy's rundown of the diverse Republican field:
And for all of them, the size of the 2016 Republican presidential field is creating extraordinary opportunities to win primaries and delegates next winter with only slivers of the vote.
Now again, the complaint with this is not the substance so much as the precision of the description. As this process approaches 2016, the race will absolutely be for wins in primaries and caucuses as well as for delegates. The problem is that Healy is likely overstating the opportunities that will actually exist for candidates to win primaries, caucuses or delegates.

At issue here is the use of the word "sliver". What constitutes a sliver? 20% of the vote? 15%? 8%? It is not clear. Healy presents it as just sliver which heightens the volatility at the core of the story. However, perhaps the picture is and will be less volatile than that.

First, the process is still in the building phase; as in there are still candidates entering the contest. The first Republican primary debate next month will likely open the winnowing phase. It may not bear fruit immediately, but the seed will have been planted. Candidates will either flourish or they will not, and those in that latter group are clearly the most vulnerable, the most likely to withdraw. That affects the opportunities available.

Second, once the primaries and caucuses get underway next year, even with a winnowed field, the shares of the vote necessary to claim delegates or victories are probably more than the slivers Healy details. It goes without saying that the smaller the share of the vote a candidate has, the less likely it is that that candidate will win a primary or caucus. But that is true for being allocated delegates as well. Part of the lack of precision here is that there will be thresholds that candidates will have to achieve in order to claim delegates. The presence and level of those thresholds varies from state to state, but that they exist at all, again, reduces the opportunities that are actually available to candidates.

New Hampshire is a good example of this. Candidates have to clear 10% to be awarded any delegates. Even a bar that low reduces the chances that a broader base of candidates will win delegates and be able to stake a claim -- point to some results, some data -- in the race next year.

The field of candidates is the main variable adding uncertainty in this race, but there are other variables that provide us with perhaps a clear, less volatile, picture than is being painted in these quiet dog days of summer 2015 leading up to debates and contests to come.

1 History is limited in its ability to help us out on this front. Even the best comparison to the size of the 2016 Republican field -- the 1976 Democratic field -- is imperfect. First, there were fewer candidates for the Democratic nomination in 1976, and that was a period in which the newly reformed nomination system was still in its infancy; the guinea pig stage. Candidates and their campaigns were still trying to figure the new system out in other words. Now sure, the national parties make rules changes every cycle, so there is always some adaptation on the campaign side of the equation. But the learning curve was steeper in 1976 than it is now nearly 40 years later.

One could argue that the evolution of the super PAC era is also contributing factor in this learning curve. Perhaps, but the principle there -- where the money is -- is as it always has been: keep up with the Joneses or get left behind.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

North Carolina Legislature Zeroing in on March 15 Presidential Primary Date

The deal to break the stalemate between legislative chambers, moving the North Carolina presidential primary back into compliance with national party rules, came more into focus on Friday, July 17. From Mark Binker at NCCapitol:
North Carolina will hold its 2016 presidential primary on March 15 under a deal struck by House and Senate leaders late Friday.  
The tentative measure, which guts the material dealing with paper ballots originally in House Bill 373 and replaces it with the presidential primary language, is scheduled to go before the Senate Redistricting Committee on Monday. It was distributed to committee members just before 8 p.m. Friday night.
That state Senate committee substitute to HB 373 not only establishes a March 15 date for the presidential primary, but also calls for altering the section dealing with how delegates are allocated to candidates. The current statute calls for the proportional allocation of delegates.

There are a few interesting notes attendant to this development:
1. First, HB 373 is not the presidential primary bill that earlier this year passed the state House. That was HB 457, and the amended bill (HB 373) that the Senate Redistricting Committee will take up next week differs from it in that is calls for a presidential primary on March 15 and not March 8.

2. That is not without significance. By pushing the presidential primary back a week further, the proposed new law would allow the North Carolina Republican Party to allocate delegates in a winner-take-all fashion. The earlier date proposed in HB 457 would have meant that the primary would have fallen in the proportionality window, and thus the allocation of those delegates would have been required to be proportional.

3. As stated above, Republicans in control of the North Carolina General Assembly have simultaneously taken advantage of the proposed date change by trading out the former proportional allocation for a proposed winner-take-all mandate. This has several potential implications.
[a] It would align a proposed winner-take-all North Carolina presidential primary with a bevy of other probable winner-take-all primaries on March 15. Of the other states, only Illinois -- with its loophole primary allocation -- is clearly not winner-take-all. Florida Republicans have made the necessary rules change, Ohio Republicans have signaled a similar move and Missouri Republicans when they have held primaries have tended to use a winner-take-all method. 
[b] From our July 2015 vantage point, a winner-take-all North Carolina primary alongside a series of other winner-take-all contests and in tandem with a large field of candidates adds more strategic intrigue. [Winnowing caveats apply:] The talk thus far has been about a Bush-Rubio showdown in Florida on March 15, but if Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio are also winner-take-all, Florida could serve as a distraction for a couple of Sunshine state natives while other, at-that-point viable candidates focus on getting as many of the 190 (non-Florida/Illinois) delegates on the line on that date. 
[c] Such a statute-based requirement for winner-take-all allocation would seemingly put North Carolina Democrats in the lurch. Democratic National Committee delegate selection rules forbid anything other than a proportional allocation of delegates. A winner-take-all requirement would place the party in violation of those rules. However, as with the statute now, the proposed law would provide an out to state parties facing a conflict between state law and national party rules.1 That, in turn, would provide state Democrats some cover. 
4. One other difference between HB 457 -- the House-passed presidential primary bill -- and HB 373 is the language of the date change. Note that HB 373 changes the date of the 2016 presidential primary to March 15. Only the 2016 primary. And that does not mean that the North Carolina primary in subsequent cycles reverts to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May. Instead, it means that North Carolina would again have a primary tethered to the South Carolina primary; likely in violation of 2020 national party rules.2 That sounds more provocative than it actually is or would be. All it would do is force North Carolina legislators -- similar to those in New York -- to have to consider the date of the presidential primary. They would be forced to make a change. Legislators would be less motivated, as they were for many years in the Tar Heel state -- to move a primary that is already in a compliant position (one concurrent with primaries for state and local offices especially) even it if is in a late calendar position.

In any event, there will be much for the committee to consider when they take up HB 373 this coming week. If it passed committee and then the full Senate, it will have to head back to the state House for its consideration of the Senate changes.

1 Interestingly, the language of the clause allowing national party rules to supersede state law on delegate allocation, does not change from how it exists now. Yet, the implementation of it will be different in 2016 than it was in 2012. The proposed winner-take-all requirement is in direct violation of the DNC rules. That would give a state party the leeway to make a change that reflects the national party guidelines. Tar Heel state Republicans in 2012, however, could not so clearly exercise that out. As FHQ explained then, there was no conflict between the Republican National Committee rules for 2012 and the state law requiring a proportional allocation of national convention delegates. Any contest on or after April 1, 2012 could allocate delegates in any manner the state party saw fit. But what that meant was that there was no conflict between the national party rules and the state law calling for a proportional allocation of delegates. Any conflict could only arise if the North Carolina Republican Party opted for a winner-take-all allocation in violation of the state law. That sort of conflict is not covered in the out provision.

Now, truth be told, had North Carolina Republicans wanted to allocate delegates winner-take-all in 2012, they likely could have, but it first would have meant a court challenge which would have been costly both in terms of money and time.

2 Bear in mind that we do not yet have the marked up version of the bill, only a committee substitute proposal. It could be that the South Carolina tethering provision is struck, but that is not listed as one of the changes this bill makes.

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for passing this on to FHQ.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Washington State Will Have a 2016 Presidential Primary, but Caucuses, too

Working against a deadline, the Washington state legislature finished up not only a (third) 2015 special session, but completed work on a 2015-17 budget during the last week in June as well. This work had some impact on the 2016 presidential primary in the Evergreen state. Before digging into that impact, let's look at how the state parties have traditionally allocated delegates in Washington and how that set up the debate over the 2016 primary in the legislature.

For starters, Washington state parties had used a caucus/convention system to determine presidential preference in order select and allocate delegates to the national conventions in the earliest cycles of the post-reform era (1972-1988). After the 1988 cycle, however, an initiative push brought a presidential primary election to the northwest. In the time since that 1989 initiative, Democrats have never utilized the primary as a means of selecting, allocating or binding delegates. Instead, the Washington Democratic Party has opted to stick with the caucus/convention system.

Republicans in the Evergreen state have, depending on the cycle, used a two-step process with delegates being allocated based on the results of both the primary and caucuses. The rules have not been uniform over that post-initiative period for Republicans. In 2000, for instance, Washington Republicans allocated only a third of the the delegates apportioned them by the Republican National Committee via the primary. The remaining delegates were bound to candidates based on results from the caucus/convention process. Eight years later, during the 2008 cycle, Washington Republicans kept the two-step primary-caucus process, but nearly equalized the number of delegates allocated based on the results of each contest. This time 51% of the Republican delegates were allocated through the primary and the rest in the caucuses.

Republicans in Washington, then, have some history with a presidential primary. Democrats there do not.

That has some influence on how each state party and those affiliated with each in the state legislature approach the primary every four years. When Democrats control the state government and/or when Republicans do not have a competitive nomination on the horizon, the likelihood of the presidential primary being cancelled by the state legislature increase. Those reasons contributed to cancelations for the 2004 and 2012 cycles. The justification for the budget expense to fund the contest just is not there in all cycles (dependent on the political conditions in the state at a given point in time).

Unlike 2011, Democrats did not control all the levers of presidential primary decision-making in 2015. While the party retained the governor's mansion and the lower House of the legislature, Republicans won control of the state Senate following the 2014 midterm elections and the state elected a Republican secretary of state who pushed for the primary early on in 2015. That made a repeat of the 2011 cancelation a tougher sell. In fact, it was only after a bill began to work its way through the Republican-controlled state Senate to move the primary from May to March that a bill to cancel the presidential primary was even proposed by Democrats in control in the House.

This set up a stalemate on whether to move or cancel the primary between the two chambers, but it also created an impasse in the budget process over whether to appropriate funds for the election. In the case of the former, the Republican-controlled Washington Senate passed the bill to move the primary to March, but it later got bottled up in committee on the House side as the regular session drew to a close. Additionally, Washington Democrats made clear with the release their draft 2016 delegate selection plan that the party once again had no intention of utilizing any state-funded primary; at least not for allocating national convention delegates to candidates.

All of the legislation to either move or cancel the presidential primary carried over from the regular session to the first special session at the tail end of April. And the state Senate once again sent the May to March primary move bill back over to the state House. However, that was the point where the move or cancel impasse gave way to the fund or don't fund debate between the chambers. And to be clear, the two are not mutually exclusive. Not funding the primary would have canceled it, but state law calls for the election and thus the funding if there is no bill passed to cancel the election. With neither bill -- cancel or move -- likely to move, that basically forced the hand of the legislature. They had to -- and did in SB 6052 -- fund the presidential primary election, appropriating $11.5 million for an election that will apparently have a bearing on the allocation of just half of the Washington Republican delegates.

So, there is a presidential primary in Washington for 2016. What does that mean?

For Democrats in the state it means a beauty contest. Democrats can vote in the open primary (after declaring affiliation with the party), but it will not affect delegate allocation to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The only benefit the Washington Democratic Party will derive from the primary is a list of participants they can use to target voters in the fall general election.

Democrats will caucus on Saturday, March 26.

The picture on the Republican side is less clear. If the party caucuses on the date they used in 2012 -- the first Saturday in March -- then they will caucus on March 5. That is just speculative though. The date of the primary is equally as unclear. It is clear now by law: Tuesday, May 24. Yet, the secretary of state -- Republican Kim Wyman in this case -- has the option of calling party leaders from both sides together to agree on an alternative. That was something that happened in June 2007 as the primary was moved into February accompanying February caucuses for both parties. And it appears at this point as if Wyman will do just that, targeting the same March 8 date embedded in the legislation to move the primary in the first place.

That would mean at least a couple of things. First, the Washington primary would be aligned with the primary in neighboring Idaho on March 8. That would make the pair the only contiguous states on that date; a potential draw to presidential candidates. However, it would also create a compact two-step primary-caucus if the caucuses end up on the preceding Saturday, March 5. There were ten days separating the Republican primary and caucuses in 2008, but a three day window for a double dip on the heels of Super Tuesday/SEC primary date could prove to be a coup of sorts for Washington Republicans.

We have a few more answers about the nomination process in Washington next year, but a handful of questions remain on the Republican side as the summer of 2015 stretches on.

Thanks to Jim Riley for the heads up on the Washington budget bill that passed in June.

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Friday, July 3, 2015

Kentucky Republicans Aiming for Early March, Proportional Caucuses

It still has to pass the Kentucky Republican State Central Committee, but the plan to switch the delegate selection process from a primary to caucuses for 2016 is taking shape in the Bluegrass state. Tom Loftus at the Louisville Courier-Journal has the latest on the special state party committee's efforts:
And planning for the caucus goes on. The head of the special committee, Scott Lasley, a political science professor and chairman of the Warren County Republican Party, said the plan will likely schedule the caucus for a Saturday or a Tuesday in early March.  
Lasley said delegates will be allocated proportional to the vote received by the candidate — it will not be winner take all.
Though the caucus switch is at least partially intended to help out home state candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, the cost of the switch -- $500,000 to $1.2 million from state party coffers -- and the logistics of the caucus voting make the outlook for the late August State Central Committee vote on the change less than 100%.

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