Wednesday, May 30, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] February Presidential Primary Bill Fails to Gain Traction in West Virginia

This post is part of a series examining efforts -- both attempted and successful -- to move presidential primary election dates for 2020 during the now-adjourning 2017-2018 state legislative sessions in capitols across the country. While shifts tend to be rare in sessions immediately following a presidential election, introduced legislation is more common albeit unsuccessful more often than not.

Midway through the 2017 session of the West Virginia legislature then-state senator, Jeff Mullins (R-9th(A), Raleigh) introduced SB 33. The intent of the bill was to uproot the biennial state primary -- which includes the presidential primary every fourth year -- from its traditional second Tuesday in May position to the second Friday in February.

Although the bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration, it was never taken up by the panel. It never received a hearing and languished there the rest of the session. There are a number of reasons for that. Year after presidential election year shifts of primary elections are not all that common.

But the proposed change probably had something to do with the stalled progress of SB 33 as well. The proposed February timing obviously violates the national party rules on presidential primary scheduling. That would have made national convention delegations from the state vulnerable to penalties reducing the number of delegates. Such a shift into February would also have placed the primary in the middle of the state legislative session, forcing state legislators to campaign for their own renominations during the session. Primary scheduling around legislative sessions remains a hang up for many states with consolidated primaries.

In the bigger picture -- historically -- West Virginia has also been hampered by what one might call the negative inertia of tradition. The Mountain state has held a primary on dates other than the second Tuesday in May in the post-reform era, but it has been rare. Other than the two cycles -- 1980 and 1984 -- when the presidential primary was in early June, the only other West Virginia exception is when Mountain state Republicans allocated delegates in a February state convention in 2008.1

That confluence of factors derailed this bill from the start.

One note on the proposed Friday primary:
They have not been typical in the post-reform era, but there have been some. Notably, the Colorado/Utah/Wyoming subregional primary in 2000 fell on a Friday. But under the current national party rules, a hypothetical second Friday in February West Virginia primary would fall just three days after the New Hampshire primary position carved out in Democratic Party rules. That would violate New Hampshire state law.

1 No, West Virginia is not exactly part of the South, but when the Southern Super Tuesday of 1988 was forming, West Virginia moved up, too, but only back to its traditional position in May from early June.

The West Virginia bill has been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.

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