Wednesday, October 18, 2023

It is tough to move the Pennsylvania presidential primary

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
  • The DNC has quietly had a pretty interesting conversation about ranked choice voting in the presidential nomination process this cycle. Not much is going to change on the surface for 2024 -- RCV will have the same basic footprint as in 2020 -- but there have been some important changes under the hood that bring the practice more in line with DNC rules. All the details at FHQ Plus.
  • I included the wrong link to the DNCRBC meeting recap yesterday. You can find that deep dive here if you missed it.
If you haven't checked out FHQ Plus yet, then what are you waiting for? Subscribe below for free and consider a paid subscription to support FHQ's work and unlock the full site.

In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Despite a flurry of legislative activity over the last month and a half, an inter-chamber impasse played a role in derailing the effort to shift the presidential primary in the Keystone state up to an earlier and potentially more influential date. 

It is not a new story. It is not even really a partisan story. Yes, Republicans control the Pennsylvania state Senate and Democrats have the narrowest of majorities in the lower chamber. However, Democrats in the Senate largely supported the effort to move the primary from the fourth Tuesday in April to the third Tuesday in March (March 19). House Democrats countered with a bill that would have shifted the primary to April 2, in line with primaries in several other regional/neighboring states.

But part of the impetus behind the change in the first place was to fix the conflict the presidential primary had with the observance of Passover. The Senate version did that and the House version did too. However, the latter legislation would have had the primary butting up against Easter weekend. And as consideration of the primary move stretched into the fall, election administrators across Pennsylvania got antsy about their preparations for the next election cycle after the current one ends. And that does not even mention some of the other elections-related riders that made it into the House-amended version of the Senate bill when it originally came before the body earlier in October. 

Basically, the effort got mired in the legislative process. And even though the House struck the entirety of the previous version of the Senate-passed bill, replacing it with only one provision calling for the primary to shift up a week to April 16 to clear the Passover conflict (and passing it), the Senate does not seem inclined to take up the measure. 

Look, there was a lot involved in this Pennsylvania process this year. There is not just one explanation for why the primary in the commonwealth will once again be scheduled for the fourth Tuesday in April. But it is worth noting that Pennsylvania has nearly always held down that position on the presidential primary calendar. Only twice has the primary strayed from that spot. And both the 1984 and 2000 primaries were only marginally earlier in April. 


Unlike other states in the immediate aftermath of the Democratic Party rules changes that ushered in reforms to the nomination system, the reaction in Pennsylvania was more muted. Ahead of 1972, the state already had a primary well-enough in advance of a summer national convention. In other words, a presidential primary to allocate and select delegates could easily be consolidated with that spring primary. And it was. 

But in other states, especially those with late summer and early fall primaries for other offices, that was not an option. Decision makers in those states had to either uproot that primary and schedule it alongside a new presidential primary or create and fund a separate presidential primary election. Many took the latter route and normalized the expenditure in the state budget. 

Back in Pennsylvania, the consolidated primary left decision makers there in much the same dilemma as those early post-reform actors in other states anytime a push to reschedule the presidential primary in the Keystone state arose. Only, more often than not, the thinking in Pennsylvania was not to create and fund a separate election but to move everything up to an earlier date, dates that would place the filing process in the previous year and conflict with the conclusion of the previous off-year elections. 

That is why Pennsylvania barely moved the two times since 1972 that the primary date has been changed. That, in turn, has meant that a separate primary never got normalized nor did the practice of revisiting the date on a regular basis. Very simply, the concept was foreign to legislators in the state. It still is
[Rep. Arvind] Venkat also said moving the presidential primary on a year-by-year basis could be subject to the whim of the party in control of the legislature depending on whether it would be beneficial.

“The only pathway forward if we are going to move our primary is to change the election code on a permanent basis,” Venkat said.
So yes, many of the above stories about partisan squabbles or inter-chamber impasses or poison pill riders or election administrator pushback will get woven into the narrative on this non-move. But there is an institutional story too. The consolidated primary -- one that has nearly always been where it is -- is almost set in stone and there has not been much appetite to change that over the years. There has been some. It almost always comes up in the years before a presidential election year, but it also almost always goes nowhere. 

...and fast. The hurdles are too steep.

From around the invisible primary...


No comments: