Friday, June 1, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] June Consolidated Primary Falls Short in Massachusetts Again

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.

If the Massachusetts General Court is in session, then state Rep. James Dwyer (D-30th, Woburn) has a bill before the state House to consolidate all of the primaries in the Bay state in June.

In every session since Dwyer first took office, he has filed legislation -- in 2011, 2013, and 2015 -- to shift the presidential primary back to June from March and the primaries for other state offices to June from the late summer/early fall. And in each instance the bill has died with little consideration. That dynamic was again on display during 190th session of the General Court. Dwyer in 2017 once again filed a bill -- H 361 -- in an attempt to create one all-encompassing primary on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June; typically the date of the last cluster of primaries and caucuses in the presidential nomination process.

Moves toward primary consolidation are often couched in terms of budget savings and often because the state has transitioned from concurrent primaries to a split set up with a separate, earlier, and expensive presidential primary. Often the return on investment is lacking in the eyes of legislators, who, in turn, move to reestablish the more traditional (and cheaper) consolidated option. But that is not the cast in Massachusetts. The savings are certainly in Dwyer's bills, but the main driver in his push is more about the administrative buffer between the later primary for state offices and the general election. The rationale then becomes "move the state primaries to the latest date that can still be coupled with the presidential primary." That gives election administrators a double reprieve -- one less election and without the rush to prepare for the general election -- and budget makers some additional money to shift elsewhere.

And that seems once again to be the case in the 2017 version of this legislation.

However, as things transition into 2019 and the preparation for 2020 many state legislatures will do, there will at least one less regularly occurring event in Massachusetts. If recent history is any guide, then Bay state Secretary of State William Galvin will likely raise concerns over the elections appropriation and the impact that has on the viability of conducting a presidential primary. FHQ has speculated that Dwyer's primary bills would ease some of that financial burden, but the move has been Galvin's attempt to leverage more funding. Yet, Dwyer will not be around to propose legislation to consolidate the presidential and state primaries in June. He will be retiring at the conclusion of the 190th. That does not mean that a similar bill will not come up. It just means that someone else in the legislature will be filing the legislation.

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

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