Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Fate of a Reestablished Presidential Primary in Maine Not Clear Entering Final Legislative Day

Wednesday, June 19 represents the statutorily mandated end of the 2019 legislative session in Maine. And among the unfinished or unresolved business of the body are two bills reestablishing a presidential primary in the Pine Tree state.

LD 1626 would reestablish the presidential primary and schedule it for Super Tuesday, the first Tuesday in March. And while that bill passed the Senate (on June 3) and was both passed (on June 4) and enacted (on June 5) by the House, there is another step to the legislative process in Maine. Any bills that affect revenues or expenditures by the state government -- as the presidential primary bill would -- are placed on the Special Appropriations Table in the state Senate at the request of a member of the Appropriations Committee. In this case, Sen. Linda Sanborn (D, 30th, Gorham) made that request and the bill has sat on the table since June 6. Generally, those bills that affect the Maine general fund are kept on the table until after the budget bill has been negotiated, passed, signed and enacted. That budget bill, LD 1001, became law on the Governor Mills' signature on Monday, June 17.

Tuesday passed with no action on the Super Tuesday bill, but it may see the light of day again in a final flurry of activity as the session draws closer to adjournment.

Meanwhile, the ranked choice voting presidential primary bill that was tabled in committee back at the beginning of May was resurrected on June 4. That work session of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee produced another divided report with committee Republicans against and Democrats split on how to proceed. The minority report amendment stripped out the presidential primary language from the original LD 1083 but continued to call for the ranked choice voting election of presidential electors in the general election but that that action should be put before the voters in a referendum.

But that report was left on the sidelines when the bill came up on the floor of the state Senate on Tuesday, June 18. Instead, the Senate brought up the majority report amendment, an amendment that further muddles the treatment of any presidential primary. Like the minority report amendment, the amendment that was brought up struck the entirety of the original bill including the provisions describing the proposed presidential primary system. Importantly, the second Tuesday in March date on which any reestablish presidential primary would be scheduled was nixed.

In its place in the amended version the Senate considered was the reestablishment of a presidential primary, but only to an extent. Under the new guidelines that were passed 20-14 on a party line vote similar to LD 1626 was a certain deference to the political parties in Maine. There can be a presidential primary, but it must be in "accordance with any reasonable procedures established at the state party convention." The state party convention part is a bit misleading. Essentially the bill under this language is deferring to the state parties on the details of any presidential primary, date included. What is left at least a little ambiguous if not unsaid, is that the fiscal note accompanying the bill concludes there is no fiscal impact on the state government. That suggests that the funding of any presidential primary may be left up to municipalities and/or the state parties. Those two entities have typically borne the costs of caucuses in Maine. If that is intended as a reestablishment of a presidential primary in Maine, then it is presidential primary light, bordering on a party-run process, but one that calls for a ranked choice process.

And incidentally, the Maine Democratic Party draft delegate selection plan calls for caucuses (but with the caveat that primary legislation is active in the legislature).

Alternatively, rather than treating both bills separately, one could look at them in tandem. LD 1626 establishes the details of the primary -- including the date and the state expenditure from the general fund -- while LD 1083 merely layers on top of that the ranked choice element if state parties opt into the contest.

UPDATE (1:20pm, 6/19/19): The Senate took LD 1626 off the Special Appropriations Table and voted to concur and enact the legislation, clearing the way for the Super Tuesday primary bill to head to Governor Mills. The House has also passed LD 1083, the ranked choice voting bill largely along party lines, 86-59 with Democrats in favor. But like LD 1626, that is not the last act. The House still has to vote to enact the legislation before sending it back to the Senate for its consideration of enactment. Should those bars be cleared, the both bills would head to the governor's desk.

UPDATE (3:30pm, 6/19/19): The House has voted to enact LD 1083. The last step is for the state Senate to concur with that and LD 1083 will head to Governor Mills' desk along with LD 1626.

UPDATE (7:30am, 6/20/19): The Maine legislative session adjourned around 6:30am, failing to pass LD 1083 through the enactment stage in the state Senate. The net effect is that Maine will have a presidential primary option if LD 1626 is signed into law by Governor Mills, but it will not occur under ranked choice voting rules because LD 1083 remained tabled in the Senate. The latter will be held over into 2020 (or into any special session called in 2019).

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for passing along information on LD 1083's passage.

1/18/19: Maine Lost its Presidential Primary

2/1/19: Maine Decision to Re-Establish a Presidential Primary Option for 2020 Hinges on Money

2/9/19: Maine Committee Hearing Highlights Familiar Divisions in Caucus to Primary Shifts

3/16/19: Alternative Bill Would Reestablish a Presidential Primary in Maine but with Ranked Choice Voting

3/22/19: Maine Committee Hearing Finds Support for and Roadblocks to a Ranked Choice Presidential Primary

3/30/19: Maine Democrats Signal Caucuses in Draft Delegate Selection Plan, but...

4/23/19: New Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill Introduced in Maine

5/10/19: Maine Committee Working Session Offers Little Clarity on 2020 Presidential Primary

6/3/19: Maine Senate Advances Super Tuesday Primary Bill

6/4/19: On to the Governor: Maine House Passes Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill

6/20/19: Governor Mills' Signature Sets Maine Presidential Primary for Super Tuesday

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