Friday, February 17, 2023

Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill Inches Forward in Hawaii

The state Senate version of a bill to create a presidential primary in Hawaii and schedule the election for Super Tuesday advanced out of committee on Thursday, February 16. 

By a vote of 4-1 with the lone Republican on the panel in opposition, the Hawaii Senate Judiciary Committee recommended SB 1005 be passed with amendments. None of the amendments dealt with the scheduling of the primary, but instead mainly focused on technical corrections/additions to the introduced legislation from the Scott Nago, the chief elections officer from the Hawaii Office of Elections.1

Aside from those issues, the biggest concern that emerged in the committee hearing for the bill was about a state party's ability to opt out of the proposed state-run primary. After hearing from a representative of the Hawaii Democratic Party, Sen. Joy San Buenaventura (D-2nd, Puna) asked of there was any input from the state Republican Party on the matter and whether an opt-out was included in the legislation for any party that may choose to stick with the caucuses that have been traditionally used to select and allocate delegates to the national conventions. With no representative from the state Republican Party present and the lone Republican on the committee, Sen. Brenton Awa (R-23rd, Kāne'ohe), silent on the matter, that question was left largely unanswered. However, an amendment was inserted in the legislation to provide for a deadline of six months before the proposed presidential primary for state parties to inform the state as to their intentions to participate in the presidential primary or not. 

The Hawaii Office of Elections estimated the cost of the presidential primary election to be north of $2.7 million. That was not a roadblock in the committee consideration of the bill, but it may receive push back when the full Senate -- or Ways and Means, where SB 1005 is headed next -- takes up the legislation. Whether that potential resistance is enough to derail the whole package is an open question. Cost of the election will be weighed against any pressure the Democratic majority feels to bend toward the discouragements of the national party to avoid caucuses. Hawaii is the only state with unified Democratic control of state government as of now with no state-run presidential primary option.


1 Most of the amendments were geared toward firming up specific deadlines for candidate filing and about language that would have to be tweaked due to the nature of a presidential primary. Unlike other primaries, the winner of a presidential primary is not necessarily the candidate who will appear on the general election ballot, a distinction not currently included in Hawaii electoral code.

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