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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