Saturday, January 14, 2023

Legislative Odds and Ends from New Hampshire with 2024 Implications

There is obviously a long way to go but the first two weeks of the 2023 session in the closely divided state legislature in Concord have already produced some interesting bills. And it is legislation that would have some impact on 2024 in the state that traditionally holds the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Two in particular -- one from each side of the aisle -- have been introduced in the early going. 

1. Provable, positive steps from New Hampshire Democrats
FHQ has done a lot of talking about actions taken or not taken by New Hampshire Democrats in the time since the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) adopted a 2024 primary calendar proposal that would push the presidential primary in the Granite state back in the order for the upcoming cycle. But earlier in the week, I discussed the opportunities that New Hampshire Democrats may have to extricate themselves from the predicament in which the party finds itself. Taking those actions -- making provable, positive steps toward the goals set by the DNCRBC to retain their early calendar status -- might not keep the party from being penalized, but it might lessen the penalties. 

Legislation was offered last week by one Democrat that falls into that category. Rep. Barry Faulkner (D-10th, Cheshire) introduced HB 586 which would expand absentee voting access in the Granite state. Now, while it does not go as far as the sort of "no excuse" absentee voting that was voted down in the state Senate in 2021 (SB 47), the measure would expand the list of excuses to receive an absentee ballot to include health and safety concerns (beyond disability) and a "lack of convenient and affordable transportation." Clearly, that is a provable, positive step that moves toward the DNCRBC mandate for an early calendar waiver. But it ultimately would likely fall short and does nothing to change the date of the presidential primary, the heavier lift for New Hampshire Democrats.

That is not nothing, but it likely would not be enough in the eyes of those on the DNCRBC who will serve as final arbiters on the New Hampshire primary situation. 

2. A potential own goal by Granite state Republicans
On the Republican side, Rep. Mike Moffett (R-4th, Merrimack) and Rep. Joseph Guthrie (R-15th, Rockingham) introduced HB 101, legislation that would close primaries in New Hampshire to only those who affiliate with a political party. This is an age-old, intra-party question pitting pragmatists against purists that waxes and wanes over time but has surged in recent years during both the Tea Party and MAGA eras. While the phenomenon is not exclusive to the Republican Party, that has been where purists have pushed most often and most forcefully for closed primaries. 

But closing off primary participation would go against the grain in New Hampshire. The tradition of independents voting in primaries for offices up and down the ballot is storied, but has been part and parcel of the presidential primary process in the state for decades. However, this legislation does not just break with tradition in the Granite state, it comes at a particularly inopportune time. With state Democrats embroiled in a fight with their national party over the first-in-the-nation status of the New Hampshire presidential primary, Republicans in the state would be passing up a prime opportunity to potentially more easily woo independent voters in the 2024 presidential primary with the general election and the state's four electoral votes in mind. 

To close the presidential primary to only registered Republicans would be political malpractice in that light. 

Look, neither of these bills are likely to go anywhere. If the fate of the bill in the 2021 session is any guide, then Republicans in the state House are likely to balk at any expanded absentee voting measure (even a scaled down one). And although there may be some Republican support for closing primaries in the Granite state, it likely will fall short of unifying the caucus behind a bill that would essentially have the party cut off its nose to spite its face. Still, this is the sort of legislative wrangling that happens not just in Concord but in state legislatures across the country. 

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