Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Kentucky Shifts Mid-May Primary to Late June in Response to Coronavirus

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams (R) on Monday, March 16 "exercising an emergency power granted to his Office under Kentucky law ... formally recommended to Governor Andy Beshear (D) that the elections scheduled for May 19 ... be delayed [until] June 23"

Beshear concurred with the recommendation and the primary in the Bluegrass state was shifted back five weeks to late June.

Yes, this is another coronavirus-related calendar change, but it is a move that brings with it some risks for the Kentucky Democratic Party. First of all, like Louisiana, the change positions the Kentucky primary outside of the rules-mandated window in which primaries and caucuses can occur in either party. The cut-off on the Democratic side is June 9, so a primary two weeks later in Kentucky opens the Democratic state party there to the penalties associated with a timing violation: a 50 percentage reduction in the national convention delegation to the national convention. And this is something the Democratic National Committee has raised as a warning.

And there are at least a couple of reasons for that.

One is that a June 23 primary in Kentucky comes just 20 days before the Democratic National Convention is scheduled to gavel in. That is a potential logistical nightmare for not only the credentialing process for the convention, but also the Kentucky Democratic Party and the delegates that will represent the state at the convention.

But couple that possible credentialing issue with the process of actually filling any delegate slots allocated to candidates in the June 23 Kentucky primary. That selection process as laid out in the Kentucky Democratic Party delegate selection plan was to have followed the May 19 primary. State legislative district caucuses were to have taken place on May 30 to elect delegates to the June 6 state convention where national convention delegates would be chosen.

On the one hand, keeping that same sequence -- a primary to allocate delegates completely followed by a caucus/convention process to select delegates -- is likely impossible with a June 23 primary. The last date on which any delegate selection occurs on the Democratic side this cycle is Saturday, June 20. The primary, then, comes after that and any caucus/convention process thereafter would run even closer to the start of the scheduled national convention in Milwaukee.

But on the other hand, a June 23 primary may be marginally workable if the Kentucky Democratic Party maintains the same selection sequence but have it precede the primary. In other words, rather than filling specific delegate slots for particular candidates at a state convention after the now potentially too late primary, the state party can continue with the caucus/convention process as scheduled and slate full groups of delegate candidate for any active candidate at that point. Then, the party could quickly take the results of the primaries and fill delegates slots allocated based on the primary results from those previously selected candidate slates.

No, that does not completely resolve all of the issues with such a late primary, but it would potentially mitigate some of the issues. After all, a number of states with late primaries conduct selection processes before their primaries by design with these very issues in mind.

As a coda, there are couple of other notes. First, it should be added that the June 23 date Kentucky has chosen also violates the Republican National Committee rules on timing. June 13 is the Republican cut-off. That said, with an August convention, the RNC has a bit more latitude on this than does the DNC with a mid-July convention scheduled. Kentucky Republicans could still complete the delegate selection process in a timely enough manner to make thing work with that August convention start point.

The other thing to consider in the context of any Democratic penalties for scheduling the primary too late is that the rules do provide the state parties some cover. But it is unlikely to apply in either Kentucky's or Louisiana's cases. In both instances Republican secretaries of state acted to delay the primaries and schedule them for points on the calendar that are in violation of the national party rules. Normally, that would help a Democratic state party avoid sanction from the national party. A change made by someone of the opposite party is out of the hands of any state party.

But in both of these cases -- Kentucky and Louisiana -- Democratic governors had to and did sign off on the date changes. In other words, a Democratic official was involved in the change. It was this sort of conflict that helped sink Florida Democrats in 2008 when the Sunshine state moved to hold its primary to a position too early under the rules. The Republican-controlled Florida legislature passed the bill to move the primary and it was signed into law by a Republican governor. But Democrats in the legislature voted for the change too. The result? An initial 100 percent reduction in the Florida delegation.

Kentucky and Louisiana may not get that level of punishment given the circumstances, but they may be levied the 50 percent reduction called for in the DNC rules.

Kentucky secretary of state press release on the primary move archived here.

No comments: