Thursday, April 30, 2015

Colorado Bill to Reestablish Presidential Primary Introduced

On Wednesday, April 29, SB 15-287 was introduced in the Colorado state Senate. The bill would reestablish a presidential primary in the Centennial state for the first time since 2000. The details largely match the description that was leaked last week.

As FHQ said at the time, the interesting news in this is the process being created rather than the switch from a caucuses/convention system to a primary election. Under the provisions of the bill, the Colorado governor would have the power to set the date of the primary in a fairly tight window of time. Before September 1 of the year prior to a presidential election, the governor is called on to set a date for the presidential primary election the following year between:

  2. a point on the calendar NOT LATER THAN THE THIRD TUESDAY IN MARCH. 
In 2016, that would mean a small window of time on the calendar from March 1-15. However, the less date-specific front end of that constraint means that, should the national parties in the future allow for an earlier start point to the nomination process, the Colorado window would move with it (without having to return to the legislature for approval). Both that ambiguity and the ceding of the date-setting power to the governor are designed to provide the Colorado presidential primary with a little flexibility; a bit of mobility in the scheduling of the contest.

That a single individual would have the date-setting authority if this bill is passed and signed into law would make Colorado like Arizona was during the 2004-2012 period (when the governor could issue a proclamation to move the primary earlier), but also like New Hampshire and Georgia where the secretary of state holds the power to set the date. Colorado would have less flexibility than Georgia and much less than the carte blanche flexibility New Hampshire's secretary of state has to keep the Granite state presidential primary first.

One additional facet of this bill that should be mentioned is that the aforementioned ambiguity of the front end of the scheduling window does potentially create some uncertainty. Call this the Florida 2013 problem. Recall, that the original law change that brought the Florida presidential primary back into compliance with the national party rules had a similar "earliest point on the calendar in which a delegation won't be penalized" provision. If we were to count only the penalty that both parties levy for going too early, that earliest date a Colorado primary could be would be March 1. Yet, if Colorado Republicans opted for a winner-take-all method of allocation, it would shrink the window down to just March 15.

Fortunately, the last time Colorado Republicans had a primary -- and not non-binding caucuses -- the party allocated their national convention delegates on a proportional basis.

The final take home on this one is that it would transition Colorado from a closed caucuses system to a primary system opened to unaffiliated voters as well. As John Frank reported last week, this is a bipartisan move overall. There are 28 co-sponsors of the legislation across both chambers of the legislature. Two House Democrats join 17 majority Republicans and in the upper chamber where Democrats are in control, six Republicans combine with three Democratic sponsors. That is tilted toward the Republicans, but bipartisan nonetheless. Both parties appear ready to attempt to engage and battle over those unaffiliated voters in higher turnout election that would take place some time during the first half of March.

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Alabama House Committee Favorably Reports SEC Primary Bill

The plan to shift the Alabama presidential primary up a week to March 1 has moved a step closer to reality. The state House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee this week passed SB 240 on to the full body for its consideration.

The state Senate previously passed the measure with only three votes in opposition. And the odds of final passage must seem pretty good. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) is already hyping the SEC primary. Moving from March 8 up to March 1 would mean Alabama abandoning neighboring Mississippi for other regional partners like Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia as well as Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont.

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Washington State Senate Opens Special Session By Sending Presidential Primary Bill Back to the House

After adjourning the regular session last Friday, the Washington state legislature was back at work on Wednesday, April 29, starting a special session mainly focused on lingering budget differences between the divided chambers.

But one other unresolved issue -- among others -- that has some potential impact on the budget for fiscal year 2016 is whether the state will conduct a presidential primary. State Democrats have already committed to a caucuses/convention system for 2016. The question now is whether (and when) Washington will hold a presidential primary in 2016 and whether it is worth the $11.5 million price tag to hold a partially meaningful primary just for Republicans.1 The Republican-controlled state Senate provided the first move on the matter on the opening day of the special session, passing SB 5978 again -- by a vote of 31-13 -- and sending it back to the Democratic-controlled House for the lower chamber's consideration.

As was the case during the original Senate passage of SB 5978, there were a handful of Democrats who voted with Senate Republicans to hold a presidential primary in 2016 and schedule it for the second Tuesday in March (March 8). But the bigger issue now before the legislature is the budget and the $11.5 million for the presidential primary may serve as a bargaining chip, albeit small in the grand scheme of the budget, as that gets sorted out.

1 Washington Republicans in the past have split their delegate allocation nearly evening between the primary (when there is one) and caucuses.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Minnesota Republicans Considering Skipping Presidential Preference Vote at Next Year's Caucuses?

One of the stories that popped up over the last few months that FHQ thought was a really interesting story -- but just was not getting much national coverage -- is how Minnesota Republicans have been reacting to the new binding rules from the national party. The objective of the Republican National Committee coming out of the Tampa convention and in fact the 2012 presidential nomination process was to cut down on some of the perceived mischief that took place during the process.

One of those perceived problems was the unbound delegate issue that kept arising in one non-binding caucuses state after another. There were two problems that stemmed from those unbound precinct caucuses. First, that the delegates were not bound to candidates meant there was a lack of clarity in the delegate count. But second, it also opened the door to delegates for a candidate who did not win the early stages of the caucuses winning the majority of the delegation at the state convention. The Ron Paul contingent was able to pull this maneuver off in a number of states. 

The lack of clarity and delegates not reflecting the will of the greatest number of caucuses participants at the most participatory/precinct level triggered the rules change, requiring the binding of delegates to candidates based on the results of the earliest statewide election. 

But that change has not been greeted well across all of the country. In fact, in Minnesota, state Republicans have petitioned the RNC for a waiver from the new binding rules. Thus far the RNC has not seemed open to the request. That makes sense. The national party changed the rules and expects states to make the necessary adjustments unless, in the words of the RNC rules. "compliance is impossible". Impossible is a high bar, especially when binding delegates based on the results of statewide precinct caucuses is a matter that is completely within the control of the state party. It would be another matter altogether if state law governed the binding process and the Democratic Party held unified control of the state government. That would be impossible. Binding delegates is not. least not theoretically. 

But one option on the table for the Minnesota Republican Party if the last ditch effort at a waiver is unsuccessful is to skip the presidential preference vote at the precinct caucuses meetings. No vote, no binding. That would leave the decision on national convention delegates up to the altered state party rules and/or the state convention. As is, the state party rule contradicts the new national party rule.
Minnesota Republican Party bylaws -- Article VI (National Delegates)
No delegate to the Republican National Convention shall be bound by Party rules (unless bound by the State Convention pursuant to the State Party Constitution, Article 5, Section 3D) or by State law to cast his/her vote for a particular candidate on any ballot at the convention.
Rules of the Republican National Committee -- Rule 16(a)(1) (Binding and Allocation)Any statewide presidential preference vote that permits a choice among candidates for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in a primary, caucuses, or a state convention must be used to allocate and bind the state’s delegation to the national convention in either a proportional or winner-take-all manner, except for delegates and alternate delegates who appear on a ballot in a statewide election and are elected directly by primary voters.
What is preventing any issuance of a waiver from the RNC is what is mentioned above (It just is not that difficult to comply.) and the fact that the national party rules trump the state party rules when and if there is a conflict (see Rule 16(b)).

Of course, that is not the only conflict this situation represents. Not holding a presidential preference vote violates Minnesota state law requiring a presidential preference vote at presidential year caucuses as Michael Brodkorb mentions. The one thing that may pull the state party back from the brink of employing a "take my ball and go home" strategy in reaction to forced binding is that some rank-and-file party members like the idea of hardwiring grassroots preferences into the process.

That was kind of the intent of the rules change.

Hat tip to Mike Taphorn for passing this news on to FHQ.

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Jeb Bush, Puerto Rico and Backdoor Winner-Take-All Delegate Allocation

It is not some mistake that Jeb Bush is in Puerto Rico this week for a fundraiser and town hall meeting.

According to law in the territory, there is to be a primary election next March; on the third Sunday in March unless that date conflicts with Easter or Palm Sunday.1 In 2016, it does. Instead of being on March 20, then, the Puerto Rico primary will fall on Sunday, March 13; just at the tail end of the proportionality window.

But why would a candidate make the effort to venture into Puerto Rico in April in the year before a presidential nomination race at the prospect of gaining some proportional share of the territory's 23 delegates? The answer is twofold. First, and Lesley Clark at McClatchy raises this, is that there are potential primary and general election ramifications in Florida's Puerto Rican community to making an appearance in and talking about issues important to folks on the island and in the continental United States.

That is true, but there are broader strategic implications at play here as well that piggyback on that Florida-Puerto Rico connection. The Florida primary is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15. Florida Republicans are also talking about a winner-take-all delegate allocation plan. However, it is unclear if those plans include a truly winner-take-all allocation method or the more-often-used (sans national party penalty) winner-take-most allocation. Let's assume here that it is the former (and FHQ thinks it will be).

The Puerto Rico primary is situated just a couple of days earlier, just inside the proportionality window on March 13. If the party utilizes the same type of allocation plan it used in 2012, then it has the potential to be a backdoor winner-take-all contest. There are no congressional districts in Puerto Rico, so there cannot be any differentiation between congressional district delegates and at-large delegates. All 23 are at-large delegates. That has the practical implication of making the Puerto Rico Republican delegate allocation either truly proportional or truly winner-take-all. Given, the date of the primary, it cannot be the latter.

Recall, however, that a party can include certain thresholds in its delegate allocation plan to guide the process (and still meet the proportionality requirements). In 2012, Puerto Rico Republicans required candidates to received at least 15% of the vote to be allocated any delegates, but if one candidate wins a majority of the vote, then that candidate is awarded all 23 delegates. The latter threshold was cleared by Mitt Romney in 2012 when the former Massachusetts governor won nearly 90% of the vote.

That backdoor winner-take-all scenario in Puerto Rico plus a win in winner-take-all Florida (outside the proportionality window) is a significant one-two punch (over 120 delegates). If a candidate can pull that off in what appears to be a protracted race (at that point), that is important. The key here is that there is less difference between a winner-take-most contest and a proportional contest than there is between a winner-take-all primary or caucuses and everything else. Not all states after March 14 are rushing to be winner-take-all. But some are, and if this race keeps going, targeting those winner-take-all states -- as John McCain did in 2008 -- is a big part of the puzzle in the race to 1235.

Jeb Bush is making that play.

1 Here is the text of that primary law:
Those primaries to be held pursuant to the provisions of this subtitle shall be held on the third Sunday of March of the year in which the general election is to be held, except if said Sunday is Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday, in which case, the primaries shall be held on the second Sunday of March of the same year. Primaries shall be held on the first Sunday of March if the aforementioned holidays fall on the second and third Sunday. 
In the case of national primaries, these may be held on any date after the first Tuesday of March of the year in which the general election is to be held, up to June fifteenth (15th) of that same year, as determined by the local body of the national party.
The Republican Party in Puerto Rico used the second part of the law as its motivation for setting the date of its 2012 primary, but ended up scheduling it on the date called for in the first part -- the third Sunday in March (March 18, 2012).

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

South Carolina Republicans Eyeing February 20 Presidential Primary Date

South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore has said the party is likely to hold its 2016 presidential primary on February 20 according to Andrew Shain at The State. Moore went on to provide a tentative timeline for the carve-out states in the Republican presidential nomination process:
Feb. 1: Iowa 
Feb. 9: New Hampshire 
Feb. 20: South Carolina 
Feb. 23: Nevada 
March 1: Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee
The DNC rules call for more specific dates for the first four states, and while the Republican National Committee rules provide no guidance on that question other than the fact that the carve-out states can hold their primaries and caucuses as early as a month before the next earliest contest, there has been some behind the scenes calendar coordination between the RNC and the Republican state parties in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Read more here:
Documents circulated among Nevada Republican Party State Central Committee members prior to their spring meeting this past March included a summary of the work the leadership was and had been doing to prepare for votes on the particulars of the party's 2016 delegate selection process.1 That summary revealed a similar timeline (see page 6):
Determined to avoid a repeat of 2012, the RNC decided to set a firm schedule early for 2016, and at the end of last summer, the Chairman of the RNC Rules Committee, Bruce Ash from Arizona, reached out to the early states thru [sic] a series of conference calls where the early dates were determined. The goal was to fit all four states within the month of February, with enough time in between each contest to allow the candidates to travel from state to state and campaign.

By tradition, Iowa holds the first caucus in the nation, and New Hampshire holds the first primary. Iowa selected a caucus date of February 2nd for Republicans (Feb 1st for Democrats) and New Hampshire selected February 9th for their primary. South Carolina preferred February 20th for their primary, and Nevada picked the 23rd . Saturday the 27th was not good for anybody because eight states, including Texas and Virginia, planned to hold their contests on “Super Tuesday”, March 1, and nobody wanted to be within four days of eight competing primary elections. Alternative dates available to Nevada were Saturday the 13th or Tuesday the 16th . These days fall on or immediately after the long President’s Day weekend, which also includes Valentine’s Day, so it was felt that turnout could be depressed if we used those dates. When all factors are taken into account, the 23rd made the most sense in terms of getting candidates to Nevada, being able to host events and get them in front of voters.
The only difference between the two is that the earlier Nevada-based timeline had Iowa Republicans holding caucuses just a week before the New Hampshire primary and on a date a day after the Iowa Democratic caucuses. The parties in Iowa tend to conduct their caucuses on the same date, but are not bound to by state law or party bylaw.

This alignment between those two timelines is evidence that the RNC has worked to tamp down on the calendar chaos from 2011. Additionally, the fact that SCGOP Chair Moore revealed that the party's primary "schedule will be formalized in about two weeks" and that he placed North Carolina on March 1 seems to suggest that South Carolina Republicans do not perceive a real threat from its neighbor to the north. In fact, given that South Carolina Democrats are settling in on a February 27 primary, the current North Carolina law -- which does not account for Democratic and Republican primaries in South Carolina on different days -- may turn out to be compliant with the national party rules (a possibility FHQ raised here).

At least one of the bills in the Nevada legislature -- SB 421 -- now calls for the proposed presidential primary in the Silver state to be on the last Tuesday in February. That matches the February 23 date in both timelines.

Overall, the coordinated timeline points toward the potential Colorado and New York problems on February 2 being non-issues or that their movement into compliance is likely in the eyes of the RNC and Republicans in the carve-out states. The gears are already moving in that direction in Colorado.

The proposed Democratic schedule in February looks like this:
Feb. 1: Iowa 
Feb. 9: New Hampshire 
Feb. 20: Nevada 
Feb. 27: South Carolina
That would have the Nevada Democratic caucuses and the South Carolina Republican primary overlapping on February 20.

1 The Nevada Republican Party was preparing to vote on the mode of delegate selection (primary or caucuses) and on the binding rules that would govern the delegate allocation process in 2016.

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Both Utah Democrats and Republicans Appear Headed for March 22 Caucuses

Though the date(s) probably have not changed (internally with the state parties), the mode of delegate selection and the timing of those events in Utah seems close to set for 2016. Beehive state Democrats have come to the conclusion that the party will not be able to fund an online presidential primary next year. Utah Republicans are set to make a run at an online option for nomination process but as part of a caucuses/convention process.

With the online presidential primary out, Utah Democrats will now caucus in 2016, and according to Lisa Riley Roche at Deseret News, it looks like both Democrats and Republicans will be caucusing on March 22. That would line both parties' delegate selection events up with the presidential primary in neighboring Arizona. That gives the date a bit of a western flavor on the presidential primary calendar.

But that regional clustering is only one of the draws for the state parties. Republicans in Utah can partner with Arizona, but also be able to continue their tradition of allocating national convention delegates in a truly winner-take-all fashion. Arizona Republicans also have that tradition. Much can and will happen between now and March 22, 2016, but both states together amount to nearly 100 total delegates. If one Republican candidate can win both contests on March 22, that cache of delegates would have some strategic implications. [They would even if there were separate winners of the Arizona and Utah contests.]

On the Democratic side, Utah along with Arizona and Idaho would qualify for a (sub)regional clustering bonus for their respective delegations. March 22 is the earliest date on which at least three regional partnering states would be eligible for that 15% delegate boost.

Both Utah parties, then, have some motivation to schedule their caucuses for March 22.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Proposed Massachusetts House Budget Includes Money for 2016 Presidential Primary

FHQ is late to this, but after Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker's (R) budget seemed to threaten the 2016 presidential primary in the commonwealth (or at least place it closer to the chopping block), the state House set aside more money for the Elections Division in its version of the budget for fiscal year 2016:
[House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian] Dempsey said the House plan would increase spending on elections after state Secretary William Galvin warned Massachusetts would not be able to hold a presidential primary next year under Baker’s budget.
This is not all that surprising. Secretary Galvin made similar ominous projections about the money in the budget for the 2012 presidential primary in 2011. That primary went off without a hitch on the first Tuesday in March as planned.

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Nevada Switch to a Presidential Primary Has 'Quiet' Support from the RNC

Both bills to reestablish a presidential primary in Nevada missed deadlines last week to have passed their originating chamber. The idea of trading out the often-used caucuses in the Silver state for a presidential primary is not dead though. Neither are the bills really. As was the case in Washington, because both presidential primary bills have budgetary ramifications, they may be revived (once amended).

Now, Jon Ralston is reporting that there is support for the presidential primary idea at the RNC:
I'm also reliably told that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who was in Las Vegas this weekend at Sheldonfest, is quietly supporting the primary and has made calls. Why quietly? Because Priebus knows how nuts the state party is, I'd guess, and wants this as far away from those folks as possible, but knows he may have to work with them.
Mostly, this is based on the rocky road the Nevada Republican Party presidential caucuses (and all the way through to the state conventions) have traveled since they were indirectly thrust into the carve-out state spotlight prior to the 2008 presidential primary season.1 That is something FHQ cited yesterday.

The final version of the bill sounds like it will have to merge components of both the Assembly version and the Senate version (at least according to the wish list of those Ralston spoke with). The former has the opt-in provision that will allow Democrats the leeway to continue caucusing2, and the latter has the consolidated February primaries provision that will save the expense of two primaries (a presidential primary in February and a primary for non-presidential offices in June).

All that entails some more legislative wrangling before the first of June.

1 The DNC first gave Nevada along with South Carolina a privileged status alongside (well, behind) Iowa and New Hampshire in 2006 to diversify the early primary electorate. The Republican National Committee allowed Nevada Republicans to join the fun at the beginning of the primary calendar queue after that.

2 Nevada Democrats have expressed some concern that losing the caucuses option might affect the party's privileged status from the DNC. Rule 11 of the 2016 Democratic Party delegate selection rules directly specify the "Nevada first-tier caucuses" when providing guidelines for how the carve-out state contests should be scheduled.

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Maryland Presidential Primary Bills Not on Governor's Docket This Week

The two Maryland bill to move the presidential primary in the Old Line state back to the end of April are not on the list of bills to be signed later this week by Governor Larry Hogan (R).

SB 204 and HB 396 passed both Maryland state legislative chambers with nearly unanimous support. These are not, then, seemingly controversial bills. There is divided government in Maryland between the Democratic-controlled legislature and the Republican-controlled governor's office, but the proposed primary move does not appear to be a partisan issue.

The impetus for the change was the fact that the early voting associated with the presidential primary would conflict with religious holidays in the spring of 2016. That originally gave rise to a proposal to shift the primary back one week to the second Tuesday in April. That was later amended -- and passed by both chambers (twice) -- to push the primary back to the fourth Tuesday in April. That would align the Maryland primary with presidential primaries in neighboring Pennsylvania and Delaware as well as Connecticut and Rhode Island.

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Ohio Conservative Group Against Potential Move Away from Proportional Allocation Rules in 2016

Jo Ingles at WKSU in Ohio had a nice story up last week about Buckeye state conservatives' reactions to the legislation moving through the state legislature to shift the Ohio presidential primary back a week to March 15. The Republican-controlled state government is motivated to make the change in order to get the currently March 8 primary out of the proportionality window; away from that RNC mandate.

But as Ingles points out, not all Republicans in the state are on board with that idea:
Tom Zawistowski with the conservative group, Ohio Citizens PAC, says he wants proportional voting because it gives more conservative candidates an opportunity to win.
Now, FHQ raises this not to stir the pot. There was only minimal opposition to the move in the Ohio House among Republican legislators. It would be surprising if the Senate consideration of HB 153 was any different. The more important issue here is that this move and any dissension among the Republican rank-and-file in the state to that move highlights the importance of what is really at stake here.

FHQ mentioned in part three of our look at the Republican National Committee's proportionality rules changes for 2016 that there is entirely too much effort placed on the allocation rules of states within the proportionality window instead of outside of it. Furthermore, there is a problem in how we all tend to talk about those differences. The tendency has been to draw a line between proportional and not proportional when it might be better to think about this in terms of truly winner-take-all rules and everything else.

This Ohio situation is the perfect example of that.

As FHQ has pointed out, Ohio Republicans have a history with winner-take-most allocation plans. In the past the state party has given a fraction of its delegates -- the at-large delegates -- to the statewide winner of the presidential primary and the remainder out to the winners of the various congressional districts. If a candidate wins district #1, then that candidate wins all three delegates apportioned to that district by the national party. In the past, FHQ has called this winner-take-all by congressional district. Some just call it winner-take-all.

But it is not winner-take-all. The potential exists for multiple candidates to win delegates if they win plurality support in just one congressional district. Depending on the level of support for the various candidates, that could look more proportional or it could move closer to the winner-take-all end of the spectrum.

It is not clear at this point that Ohio Republicans are going toward a truly winner-take-all allocation plan for 2016. It is just clear that they are attempting to avoid the proportionality window and its mandate. But if the party returns to the winner-take-most plan that it has historically used, then maybe it will not actually be all that bad for those conservative candidates and their supporters in the Buckeye state.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Signals Support for Presidential Primary Over Caucuses in 2016

David Drucker at The Washington Examiner:
Republican leaders in Nevada are moving to junk their presidential caucuses and re-implement a standard primary election for 2016. 
There are two bills pending in the Republican-controlled legislature, including one in the Assembly carried by Speaker John Hambrick. If passed and signed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, Nevada Republicans voting in the 2016 primary would pull the lever at the polls as they do in a general election, rather than caucusing in groups similar to how the primary is conducted in Iowa. Republican insiders supportive of the legislation are expressing confidence that it will be enacted. 
"There are pros and cons to everything," Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald told the Washington Examiner on Friday. But McDonald said he is pushing for a normal primary because he and many other Silver State Republicans are unhappy with how the 2012 caucuses went down.
This is interesting.

It is interesting because it represents a reversal either at the top of the Nevada Republican Party or within the Nevada Republican Party. Drucker mentions that the chairman of the Republican Party in the Silver state supports the change and obviously the speaker of the state Assembly, who sponsored the Assembly legislation cited (AB 302), supports the change. Yet, the party vice chair, Jim DeGraffenreid, is on record (on behalf of the party) in opposition to that bill at its original hearing. Yes, that written testimony was against the original version of the legislation. At the time it called for a non-compliant January presidential primary (consolidated with the primaries for state and local offices). In his spoken testimony before the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, DeGraffenreid, as FHQ described it at the time, rejected the primary idea outright, saying that the state party could and would make the decision on its own and that the taxpayer expenditure for a presidential primary was not necessary.

When the same bill was introduced in the state Senate and later heard in committee, another representative from the Nevada Republican Party -- this time James Hindle, chairman of the Storey County Republican Party and like DeGraffenreid speaking on behalf of the state party -- voiced opposition to the presidential primary idea in the bill. This time the comments were more ominous with regard to how the Nevada Republican Party viewed the idea of trading in caucuses for a primary.  Hindle indicated that the Nevada Republican Party Central Committee had voted the previous weekend to hold caucuses (after having debated the two options).

Again, the Nevada Republican Party has already voted -- and quite recently -- to hold caucuses in 2016 instead of a primary. Now, that does not mean that the party cannot change its mind. Under different leadership during the 2012 cycle, the Nevada Republican Party set its caucuses date for February 18, 2012, then January 14 and then settled on February 4 after a showdown with New Hampshire.1

Nevada Republicans may pull the trigger on a switch, but that does raise a number of questions.
  1. Which version of the presidential primary legislation will make it through the legislature? One version -- the Assembly version -- now calls for a state party to request the secretary of state to call for a presidential primary. It only takes one party. If both make that request, then the state central committees have to confer on a working day in February. Absent an agreement, the secretary of state makes the decision. The state Senate bill calls for a consolidated presidential primary (with primaries for other state and local offices) on the last Tuesday in February. The date issue is not much of a conflict, but the consolidated primary means cost savings that a separate presidential primary cannot match. However, that consolidated primary means much earlier filing deadlines and general election campaigns for all other state and local candidates. In other words, there is still much to iron out on this one.
  2. If the Assembly bill cited by Drucker is the preferred option for Silver state Republicans, how receptive will Senate bill sponsor, Senator James Settlemeyer (R-17th, Minden), be to that option? He held quite a lot of sway over his bill getting out of committee.
  3. Speaking of parties opting into or requesting the presidential primary, Nevada Democrats, at least those on the committees hearing these two bills, continue to say that Nevada was originally chosen as a carve-out state specifically as a caucuses state. Those Democratic committee members have also voiced opposition to the primary measures because the DNC rules specify that Nevada is a caucuses state. Changing that would jeopardize carve-out status, they argue. [FHQ thinks that concern is perhaps overblown. Those same Democratic rules have called for specific dates on which Nevada's caucuses were to occur during the last two cycles. Nevada has yet to actually conduct a delegate selection event on those dates (because of the actions of other states). That has not led to a loss of the state party's privileged position on the calendar, much less a loss of any delegates. Yet, if the Nevada Democratic Party thinks there is a problem there, it affects how they approach these bills (and ultimately how willing they are to pick a primary over the caucuses the party tends to have.).]
  4. Is there disagreement in the Nevada Republican Party over the primary versus caucuses question?
  5. Finally, FHQ semi-jokingly said in response to a Jon Ralston tweet about the Nevada Republican Party having difficulty raising money that Nevada Republicans might be motivated to switch to a primary so that the state would pick up the tab for the election. That would save the party the trouble of having to raise the money necessary to pull of a caucuses/convention process that has already been rocky the last two cycles. How much is the fundraising shortfall affect the decision-making here?
Nevada Republicans may "junk" their embattled caucuses, but there is a lot of nuance to this situation that may make such a switch more difficult to achieve.

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for bringing Drucker's story to FHQ's attention.

1 The typical protocol for the carve-out states has been to wait every other state out, setting the dates of their primaries and caucuses later and only after other states had chosen dates. Nevada Republicans did not follow that blueprint in 2010-11.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Time Ran Out on Washington Presidential Primary Bill

As mandated by the state constitution, the Washington state legislature must wrap up the business of its 2015 regular session by April 26. However, both chambers of the legislature ended their regular session work on Friday evening, April 24.

One of the bills -- ideas really -- left in limbo as the session closed was SB 5978. Originally, that legislation was intended to entice the state parties into using the presidential primary election to allocate at least some of their national delegates. That version passed the Republican-controlled state Senate, but has stalled in the Democratic-controlled state House. And, in fact, that bill was amended to make the presidential primary contingent upon the parties using the election to allocated at least 75% of their national convention delegates. If the parties -- both parties -- fail to use the primary and at that allocation threshold, the presidential primary election is automatically cancelled.

FHQ made the case earlier this week that that maneuver was a function of the combination of the Washington Democratic Party opting for a caucuses/convention system in 2016 and a Democratic-controlled state House moving, in part, to reflect that decision. However, there were institutional reasons driving that House Appropriations Committee amendment. As FHQ commenter, jimrtex, astutely pointed out, SB 5978 and other bills faced a number of deadlines recently. Most importantly,  that includes the April 15 deadline for bills to have passed the chamber opposite the bill's originated chamber. For SB 5978, then, that means it would have to have passed the House by April 15.

It did not.

There is, however, an exception to that cutoff: bills that have some budgetary effect. SB 5978 did not originally have any budgetary impact. It called for a presidential primary election to be held as usual,  but proposed shifting the date and the delegate allocation formula. To keep the bill alive, it had to have some effect on the budget. Adding the amendment with a trigger to automatically cancel the primary, SB 5978 now has a potential $11.5 million impact. As in, it would save the state $11.5 million in the next budget if the primary is cancelled. And really that if is a when. Again, both parties have to opt into the presidential primary and allocate 75% of their delegates through the results of that election. State Democrats have already voted to hold caucuses in 2016.

That fact -- that both parties are likely headed for caucuses -- and the fact that SB 5978 died in the House as the regular session closed means that Washington essentially has a meaningless $11.5 million expenditure in the state budget for the next two years. But that projected budget and its different versions across the two legislative chambers were not reconciled prior to the close of the session. That work will continue in a special session to convene next week.

There might be an $11.5 million presidential primary appropriation that may become part of that discussion.

EDITORIAL NOTE: The original version of this post was written Friday morning, April 24 and scheduled to run Saturday morning, April 25 to fill a travel-related gap in FHQ's postings. That post ran as scheduled, but the Washington legislature adjourned on Friday evening after the original post was in the can. The post has been edited to reflect the earlier adjournment and the upcoming special session in the Evergreen state. 

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

North Carolina Presidential Primary Bill Passes House

With crossover day looming over the proceedings at the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh, the state House moved quickly on presidential primary legislation that got the green light in committee earlier in the day.

H 457, the bill to move the presidential primary in the Tar Heel state to March 8, was favorably reported from the House Elections Committee on the morning of April 22 and was later in the evening passed by a voice vote on the House floor. The change to the primary date would bring the North Carolina presidential primary back into compliance with the national parties' delegate selection rules. As the law is currently constructed, the North Carolina presidential primary would fall on the Tuesday after the South Carolina primary. Though neither South Carolina party has officially set a primary date for the 2016 cycle, the primary in the Palmetto state is protected as a February primary by the rules of both national parties.

That would pull the North Carolina primary into February and out of compliance with those same national party rules.1 In turn, that means that both parties in North Carolina would face potential delegate reduction penalties. It is the threat of those penalties -- 50% from the DNC and over 80% from the RNC -- that has prompted the North Carolina General Assembly to consider partially reversing course on its 2013 decision to separate the North Carolina presidential primary and move it from May to February. H 457 would not shift the primary back to it traditional position in May, but would instead keep the North Carolina primary early on the presidential primary calendar while nudging it out of the pre-March 1 danger zone.

It has never been a formality that this legislation would pass the lower chamber, but it has a sponsor, Rep. David Lewis (R-53rd, Harnett), who not only chairs the House Elections Committee, but is also the North Carolina national committeeman to the RNC. With the backing of the House speaker, Lewis is a well-positioned advocate for the proposed primary date change. The expected roadblock to changing the primary date has never been in the House. It was the state Senate that added at the last minute the amendment to the omnibus elections bill changing the primary date in 2013. And it is the state Senate where vocal opposition to changing the date exists now. This bill now moves to the Senate side of the capitol building, and it is there that it will perhaps face a sterner test.

...though, there is reason to suggest that the climb will not be as steep as once thought. Senator Bob Rucho (R-39th, Mecklenburg), through whom everything elections-related goes through in the upper chamber, has moderated to some extent his previous stance backing the February date. He said Wednesday, “We’re evaluating and looking at what’s in the best interest of our state.” That is a far cry from his "we're not going to move it unless we get something out of it" position.

1 Under those rules, no state other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can hold a primary or caucuses before the first Tuesday in March (March 1 for the 2016 cycle).

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Legislation in the Works to Reestablish a Presidential Primary in Colorado

John Frank at the Denver Post is reporting that legislation is in the works to bring back a presidential primary in Colorado for the first time since the 2000 presidential election cycle. The parties in the Centennial state have operated under a caucuses/convention system in the three cycles since.

Some of the details have yet to be fully ironed out but the rough plan at this point is to reestablish the presidential primary, but leave the date up to the discretion of the governor. This is similar in some ways to how Arizona handled the setting of its presidential primary date from 2004-2012.1 Unlike Arizona, however, the proposed gubernatorial date-setting authority would be constrained. The governor would not be able to position the proposed presidential primary on a date out of compliance with the national party rules.2 In 2016, the primary could not be scheduled for a date any earlier than March 1.

The switch from caucuses to a primary would also mean that unaffiliated voters could participate; a change from the current system. Even with that provision, both parties are seemingly onboard with the switch. Via Frank:
“It provides more Coloradans the opportunity to have their voices heard in the process,” said Rick Palacio, the Democratic chairman. 
“Giving voters a choice of who represents them in the general election through a presidential primary will be good for Colorado across the board,” said GOP Chairman Steve House in a statement. “It will give this critical swing state more attention during the primaries, and it will make it easier for voters to get involved in the nomination process.”
Having everyone "onboard" now does not, however, mean that this bill will advance (see Mississippi). But it does not mean that it will not either. Colorado could end up on the earliest allowed date, March 1, where the (presidential) caucuses likely would have been set for 2016, but there are regional partners with contests on March 8 (Idaho) and March 22 (Arizona) that could prove to be inviting calendar positions to maximize the significance of the Colorado primary.

But first thing's first: the legislative process.

1 The Arizona statute at the time set the presidential primary on the last Tuesday in February, but gave the governor the ability to move the date to an earlier position on the primary calendar. That power was utilized in both 2004 and 2008 and was used as a threat in 2012.

2 This is similar to the old Florida presidential primary law passed in 2013 and altered in 2015.

Ohio House Passes Legislation to Move Presidential Primary Back a Week

The Ohio state House passed HB 153 this afternoon, April 22. The bill would shift back by one week the date of the presidential primary in the Buckeye state from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March to the second Tuesday after the first Monday in March. In 2016, that would mean a move from March 8 to March 15.

The proposed shift is not without significance. In fact, the intent of the legislation is to allow the Ohio Republican Party to conduct a presidential primary outside of the proportionality window the Republican National Committee has created on the 2016 primary calendar from March 1-14. A March 15 primary date would give Ohio Republicans the ability to allocate their national convention delegates in the presidential nomination process in a manner of its choosing. The March 8 date as currently called for in state law would require the party to allocate those delegates proportionate to the primary results (statewide and in the state's 16 congressional districts).

While House Republicans favored the change, Democrats in the lower chamber preferred an even later date -- May 3 -- that would have increased its total number of delegates in the Democratic presidential nomination process. As they did a day ago in committee, Democrats on the House floor offered an amendment to the bill to move the primary to May 3. But just as was the case a day ago, majority Republicans forced the tabling of that amendment and then moved to vote on the bill as originally introduced.

HB 153 passed on a 56-41 vote and now moves on to the state Senate for consideration.

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Bill to Move North Carolina Presidential Primary Back into Compliance Advances Out of Committee

In a short meeting this morning, April 22, the North Carolina state House Elections Committee considered and passed H 457. The legislation would simplify the current North Carolina presidential primary law, untethering it from the South Carolina primary and scheduling the election for the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. That would fall on March 8 during the 2016 presidential election cycle, a week after the proposed SEC primary.

Again, the meeting was brief and the committee only consider this one bill. However, the proceedings were seemingly not all that controversial. The idea of moving the primary back to March was met favorably by the committee. The membership only followed up with one question about the costs. The separate presidential primary would cost the state $5 million. That is still the case under the provisions of this bill. It would simply reposition the newly separated  consolidate presidential primary. The other primaries for state and local offices continue to fall in May date.1 Members also questioned why not just leave everything in May as has been the custom in North Carolina for the majority of the post-reform era (1972-present). The response from the bill's sponsors was the obvious: the later a primary is, the more likely it is to be insignificant in deciding the nomination.

The only other comment from any of the Elections Committee members was that a presidential primary before March 1 would negatively affect Democrats as well as Republicans. Both state parties would lose delegates -- 50% from the DNC and over 80% from the RNC -- if the primary election was conducted outside of the window prescribed by the national parties (on or after March 1).

The bill was then passed -- seemingly unanimously2 -- with a favorable report and now will head to the House floor for consideration.

Yet, none of this came as unexpected news. The House Elections Committee is chaired by Rep. David Lewis (R-53rd, Harnett), who not only co-sponsored the measure, but is all the Republican national committeeman from North Carolina to the RNC. Shepherding the bill through the committee stage, then, is an afterthought. How well it does on the House floor -- how controversial it is there -- remains to be seen. However, the North Carolina state House has never really been the point of obstruction for any primary move. The real impasse is between the state House and Senate. The latter is where the proponents of the tethered, February presidential primary are.

In other words, this has not heated up much yet.

1 The current law calls for the non-presidential primaries to be conducted in May as usual. The presidential primary would be separate on the Tuesday after South Carolina. All the bill would do is shift the presidential primary back into compliance with the national party rules.

2 The chair of the committee called the vote for the ayes over any nay votes there may have been. To FHQ's ear, there were no votes in opposition. That reflects the general, non-controversial discussion of the bill.

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A November 2015 Presidential Primary in Louisiana?

A month ago FHQ discussed the state of play in Louisiana after it became clear that no money had been included in the governor's budget proposal for any elections after December 2015 (during the 2015-16 fiscal year). That would mean no funds for the March 5 presidential primary in the Pelican state. At the time, FHQ suggested that it was likely that Louisiana Republicans would simply move all of its delegate allocation/selection into the caucuses/convention process that it has used for the last several cycles to allocate at least some of its delegates to the national convention.

Now, however, there is a different idea floating around to circumvent the budgetary shortfall. Former Louisiana Secretary of State Jim Brown has suggested combining the presidential primary with the November 31 gubernatorial runoff election:
Finding it [funds for the presidential primary] could be tough. Brown's idea is to stage the Louisiana primary on the cheap; combining it with the gubernatorial run-off, November 31st. 
“Be the first in all of America to hold a primary,” Brown told KTBS, “get massive national attention and it wouldn't cost us one penny.” 
Brown said several lawmakers have approached him about his idea.
Consolidating elections as a means of saving money is nothing new. Such maneuvering was common in 2012 as separate presidential primaries were eliminated from New Jersey to Arkansas to California. But in all of those cases, the consolidation process meant moving to a later date on the primary calendar. This Louisiana proposal -- and folks, it is very definitely at the idea stage -- would entail moving forward/earlier and, in fact, into another calendar year.

Obviously, Louisiana scheduling a presidential primary in late November would be a violation of both national parties' delegate selection rules. And expect Louisiana legislators to get an earful from the national parties either directly or indirectly should they decide to move forward with this idea. But if were to move forward in bill form and become law, that could push the carve-out states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- into early November of this year.

Just don't count on that happening.

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