Friday, December 2, 2022

DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee Adopts Biden Calendar Proposal

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) on Friday voted in favor of rules and regulations granting waivers to five states to conduct primaries the pre-window period of the 2024 presidential primary calendar. Every member of the panel supported the proposal offered by President Biden with the exception of Scott Brennan (Iowa) and Joanne Dowdell (New Hampshire).

The calendar outline for the pre-window agreed to looks like this:
Saturday, February 3: South Carolina primary
Tuesday, February 6: Nevada primary, New Hampshire primary
Tuesday, February 13: Georgia primary
Tuesday, February 27: Michigan primary
Originally, as came out in the meeting, the plan called for the South Carolina primary to fall on February 6 which would have knocked the Nevada/New Hampshire pair of contests and the Georgia primary back a week each from their positions in the adopted outline above. Artie Blanco, a DNCRBC member from Nevada, raised the issue of the primary in the Silver state already being scheduled for the February 6, and wondered aloud whether South Carolina could be shifted to the Saturday prior. This was something that Carol Fowler, the DNCRBC member from South Carolina, not only did not object to, but she additionally pointed out that the Democratic primary in the Palmetto state has traditionally been conducted on a Saturday anyway. 

As noted in yesterday's post, there were already going to be state-level obstacles to implementing this plan in 2023. 
  • South Carolina is maximally maneuverable. The state party merely has to indicate to state elections officials when they plan to hold the primary and the state government funds and implements the primary election from there. There is no problem meeting that goal.
  • Nevada, as mentioned, is already in position by virtue of legislation passed and signed into law in 2021. Had the original plan been passed, it would have meant that the now-divided government in the Silver state would have to pass new legislation to change the date of the primary. With a newly elected Republican governor, change was unlikely. No compromise could likely be reached between Democratic legislators attempting to follow DNC rules and a Republican governor who likely would have wanted a date even later than the February 13 date Nevada was slotted into in the initial proposal from the president. That stalemate would have led back to the status quo, something the DNCRBC acknowledged by adopting the amended outline.
  • The New Hampshire secretary of state selects the date of the presidential primary in the Granite state, and under law that is required to be at least seven days before any other similar contest. Regardless of partisan alignment, the secretary is required to follow that guidance. But the current secretary is a Republican and inclined to not only keep the New Hampshire primary first, but to keep it first as set forth in national Republican rules for the 2024 cycle. In other words, New Hampshire Democrats' hands are mostly tied on this, stuck between a secretary of state likely to follow state law and a national party threatening sanction if the state party fails to meet new guidelines that would have them break with tradition. 
  • Similarly, the Georgia secretary of state schedules the date of the presidential primary in the Peach state. And although Secretary Brad Raffensperger (R) does not face the same requirement to be first as in New Hampshire, he is, nonetheless a Republican who would be less than interested in shifting the primary up to a point on the calendar that would draw penalties from the Republican National Committee. And the proposed February 13 date conflicts with those rules. 
  • Michigan, like South Carolina, is more maneuverable under the new DNC guidance than Democrats in the state would have been without the newly won majorities in both chambers of the Michigan legislature. Holding unified government means that Democrats in control can more easily pass legislation and take advantage of the waiver offered by the national party. 
However, the DNCRBC tacked on an additional set of state-specific contingencies for each of the five states above to even qualify for the waivers in question. And the window for action on those conditions is short. All five states would have to share their base voter file with bona fide Democratic candidates for president at an expense of no more than $10,000. All five states have to meet their specific requirements or risk forfeiting the waivers now preliminarily granted. That forfeiture would mean that any state unable to comply would be required to conduct a contest in the designated window on the calendar (between the first Tuesday in March and the second Tuesday in June). The contingencies diverge from there...
  • All South Carolina Democrats have to do is have the state party chair submit a letter to the DNCRBC pledging that the party will call on the state of South Carolina to conduct a primary on February 3 regardless of what other states do. That action must be taken by January 5, 2023.
  • Nevada has basically already met its main condition. The primary is already scheduled for the date the DNCRBC settled on. But Nevada Democrats must certify that any statutory changes have been made -- none are necessary -- to align the primary law with DNC rules by January 5, 2023.
  • To reiterate, New Hampshire Democrats are stuck, and the additional conditions they must meet to successfully gain a pre-window waiver from the DNCRBC are collectively a tall order. The state party has to submit to the committee by January 5, 2023 letters from the New Hampshire governor, the New Hampshire state Senate majority leader and the New Hampshire state House majority leader -- all Republicans -- pledging to make all necessary statutory changes to 1) cement the February 6 primary date and 2) implement no excuse early voting. For a variety of reasons, none of those letters from Granite state Republican leaders is likely to be forthcoming by January 5 of next year or any time ever. And that makes the next condition even more unpalatable to New Hampshire Democrats. The new DNC regulations require that all those changes be made -- as in finalized -- by February 1, 2023. That is a recipe for New Hampshire Democrats losing their waiver.
  • Georgia is in a similar boat. Again, the secretary of state in the Peach state sets the primary date, and Georgia Democrats must submit a letter from Secretary Raffensperger to the DNCRBC by January 5, 2023 in which he pledges to schedule the contest for February 13. Since such a move would negatively impact the Republican primary and Republicans in the state, that letter is unlikely to be acquired by Georgia Democrats to pass on to the DNCRBC. And that is likely to end the waiver chances there, pushing Georgia back to Super Tuesday (March 5) or later. [NOTE: There is no similar push by the DNC to have Georgia make statutory changes as was the case in New Hampshire.]
  • Michigan appears poised to move its primary date. The only real question is whether that happens before the current Republican-controlled legislative session adjourns or after new Democratic-controlled session begins in early January. Regardless, similar letters from the Michigan governor, state Senate majority leader and state House majority leader -- all Democrats -- must be submitted to the DNCRBC by January 5, 2023 and action completed by February 1, 2023. Like South Carolina and Nevada, Michigan Democrats being able to jump through the hoops set before them by the DNCRBC seems like a formality. 
But what about Georgia, Iowa and New Hampshire?

Well, the addition of Georgia may have been a polite nod to a state that was both instrumental in the president's electoral college victory in 2020 and aligned well (as a possible fifth early state) with the criteria the DNCRBC had set forth in its process to award waivers for the 2024 pre-window. While the Georgia code setting the parameters of the presidential primary scheduling describes a singular primary election, it also indicates that a primary election will be held for each party. That seemingly provides some wiggle room to a willing secretary of state, but the custom in Georgia has never been to conduct separate presidential primaries; one for each party. The state budget also does not allocate funds for a second/separate presidential primary election. 

Iowa and New Hampshire are different. 

Both have obviously long held privileged positions in the presidential nomination processes of both parties. And both also have state laws protecting those positions (although there are no explicit penalties for violations in either). Both still have them on the Republican side for 2024 and only Iowa Democrats have had their waiver directly denied by the DNCRBC. New Hampshire Democrats appear to have been granted a reprieve but only a short one given that the marching orders handed down from the DNC are an indirect denial of a 2024 waiver. 

Theoretically, the DNC has more leverage over a state party like Iowa's than over the New Hampshire Democratic Party working -- or trying to work -- through an unaffiliated (and uninterested) secretary of state there. And typically the DNCRBC has been more lenient on states and state parties that try their best to comply with any new set of regulations handed down by the national party setting the parameters around the next nomination cycle. 

In other words, if Iowa Democrats are defiant and openly flaunt the new rules to hold a contest alongside Republican caucuses that are likely to be scheduled for some time in January 2024, the the DNCRBC is likely to drop the hammer on them. And in this case, the hammer means going beyond the 50 percent delegation penalty called for in the rules (which is discretion the DNCRBC has). It was hinted at during the DNCRBC meeting in a passing comment on rogue states that the committee may be inclined to take all of a violating state's delegates. 

There are other candidate-specific penalties as well, but the effectiveness of those deterrents hinge on there actually being an active and competitive nomination race; something that would not be on the table if President Biden opts to run for renomination. [Yes, that can change, but from all indications, the president is running and most of the big names that are thought to be possible challengers have deferred to him.] With no candidates, there is nothing for states to lure by breaking the rules to go early (other than tradition).

Is the prospect of no delegates enough to keep Iowa Democrats from jumping back into the pre-window? Probably not if those penalties are only in place during primary season. However, the DNC and the convention have the ability to not recognize a delegation from a state that has run a delegate selection process that runs afoul of DNC rules. If Biden is the nominee, then that may be enough to keep Iowa Democrats in line. But it is also an eventuality that the DNC would have to signal early and often was a very possible end point for a rogue state. Carrying through on that is equivalent to the DNC admitting Iowa is a red state and completely writing it off in the general election.

These same things affect New Hampshire as well, but again, Democrats in the Granite state are stuck in a different dilemma. They could completely agree with the DNCRBC changes and still not be able to do anything about it with either Republicans in control of state government or the secretary of state. Of course, so far New Hampshire Democrats have struck a stridently defiant tone in response to the proposed calendar changes, vowing to still go first. 

In the past it may have enough for New Hampshire Democrats to try their best to comply and be given the benefit of the doubt by the DNCRBC (as FHQ noted in the close of this post). But the contingencies the DNCRBC adopted made it more difficult for Democrats in the Granite state to not only "try their best" but to comply at all. The conditions added insult to injury, especially considering that it looked like New Hampshire stood a pretty good shot of retaining its position given all the chatter leading up the DNCRBC meeting, but before the Biden team released its proposal the day before the panel convened. 

New Hampshire Democrats and the DNC, then, may be in much the same position as Democrats in the Hawkeye state are with the national party: destined for a clash. Of course, while Iowa may be a red state, New Hampshire remains purple. And even if just a sliver of the New Hampshire electorate is motivated by the state being stripped of its position in the nominating process -- whether by costing Democrats all of their delegates during primary season or not seating a Democratic slate from the state at the convention -- it would not take that much to flip the state to Republicans in a presidential contest. Around 30,000 votes would have accomplished that in 2020. That is a real potential cost to national Democrats. 

The DNC may be willing to send that sort of message to Iowa, but New Hampshire is a different matter. New Hampshire Democrats have leverage that Iowa Democrats do not. But if the DNC is serious about this -- if the president is serious about making these calendar changes a part of his legacy -- then that would be the potential price the national party has to pay. 

Again, however, the national party would not only have to adopt these rules -- the DNC will at their meeting early next year -- but would have to publicly and often discuss the possible ramifications of going rogue. 

...and follow through on them


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