Monday, March 16, 2020

Puerto Rico Democrats Signal Presidential Primary Date Change

The Puerto Rico Democratic Party on Saturday, March 14, in a press release indicated that the party is examining a presidential primary date change in the face of the coronavirus spread.

Just last August, the legislature in the island territory pushed the Democratic presidential primary up ten weeks to the last Sunday in March. But in an effort to blunt the spread of the pandemic coronavirus, Puerto Rico Democrats are reconsidering. And there are two options on the table, both of which would require legislative action to enact.

The first option (from the press release):
Seriously concerned about the welfare of voters and arguing that the safety of every citizen is paramount, (state party chair Charles) Rodriguez will request that the Presidential Primary Act be amended for the vote to take place on Sunday, April 26.
That change is simple enough. It would shift back the date of the primary by four weeks to April 26.

However, there is another contingency (also from the press release):
Otherwise, a second alternative in mind by the leader of the local Democrats is to allow the party to choose the date, in the event the situation caused by the coronavirus could also affect the primary in April.
Opting for the second plan could entail an even later Democratic primary in Puerto Rico. That could certainly push things later on the calendar into May. Another factor worth pointing out is that Puerto Rico Republicans are currently slated to have their own presidential primary on Sunday, June 7. Consolidating those two contests could save some money on the island and fall late enough on the calendar to be out of the danger zone for the spread of the virus.

One thing that would gird against any June primary that coincides with the Republican presidential primary is the delegate selection process Puerto Rico Democrats have laid out. District delegate candidates have already been made to file to appear on the March 29 ballot. That will not be affected by any primary date change. However, there is a state convention planned for May 31 where PLEO and at-large delegates will be selected. That could still happen with a June 7 primary by selecting a slate of PLEO and at-large delegates for any active candidates and then filling any slots allocated to those candidates in the primary from those slates after the results come in. That would be a logistically easier option than pushing back the date of the state convention.

Again, either option would require some intervention and action on the part of the legislature in the territory. That is a bit of a departure from the recent primary postponements in Georgia and Louisiana where secretaries of state acted under broad emergency powers afforded them either by law or by gubernatorial emergency declarations.

A similar trajectory may present itself in Puerto Rico at some point, but the early signals are that this presidential primary date change will take a path through the legislative process. And that will have to be expedited because the clock is ticking toward the March 29 date on which the primary is currently scheduled. There are now less than two weeks in which to act.

March 14 press release archived here.

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