Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Idaho Presidential Primary Bill Passes State House, Off to Governor Otter

The Idaho state House passed SB 1066 on Tuesday, March 31. The measure to reestablish a presidential primary and schedule it as a free-standing election on the second Tuesday in March navigated the lower chamber with only minority party Democrats and a handful of Republicans in opposition. The 50-19 vote now sends the bill off to Governor Butch Otter for his consideration.

If the governor signs the legislation that would clear the way for Idaho Republicans to switch back to a primary as its means of allocating delegates to the Republican National Convention from the caucuses/convention the party used in 2012. The Idaho Republican Party passed a resolution at its 2015 winter meeting stipulating that it would opt for a presidential primary if the state legislature passed legislation to bring the 2012-repealed primary back at an earlier date.1

An Idaho presidential primary on March 8 would align it with primaries in Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio and Republican caucuses in Hawaii. A primary on that date is also under consideration in neighboring Washington state.

1 The Idaho GOP did call for a consolidated primary election in that resolution. What the legislature has provided is not that, though the presidential primary may run concurrently with school elections held at that point in March. That may require additional action from the state party in order to fully switch back to a primary.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Mississippi SEC Primary Bill Derailed in Conference

With the end of the 2015 legislative session in sight, time was running out on the Mississippi legislation to bump the Magnolia state presidential primary up a week to March 1.


SB 2531 breezed through the state Senate last month and was later unanimously passed by the state House with what seemed like a small amendment. That amendment and the division over it between the two chambers proved to be the undoing of the bill in conference. Standing in the way of Mississippi joining the proposed SEC primary was a dispute over whether to sunset the primary move. The House preferred making the presidential primary date change -- to the first Tuesday in March -- permanent while the Senate version would have had the primary revert to the second Tuesday in March date the state has occupied on the presidential primary calendar since 1988.

That gap between the two chambers' version could not be bridged in conference on Monday, March 30. That kills the bill and Mississippi's last chance to move up a week into the proposed SEC primary position. Instead, Mississippi will presumably compete with Michigan, Ohio, Hawaii Republicans and perhaps Idaho as well for attention on March 8.

Ultimately, this is a strange end for a bill that by all indications was a slam dunk even before the legislature convened in January. Everyone was apparently not on board.

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Resolution Circulating at Republican County Conventions Calling on a Later North Carolina Presidential Primary

There was a flurry of reporting on the provocative positioning of the North Carolina presidential primary both here and elsewhere at the end of February, but it has been pretty quiet on that front in the month since. Most of the reactions in February were precipitated by the op-ed North Carolina Republican Party chairman, Claude Pope, wrote urging the North Carolina General Assembly to consider legislation pushing the presidential primary in the Tar Heel state back to March 1.

A wider, national discussion of the costs and benefits of a rogue North Carolina presidential primary was not the only byproduct of that call from Chairman Pope. Local Republican parties in reaction also began considering a resolution that also urged the General Assembly to move the primary back into compliance with the national party rules.1  Those efforts, in turn, triggered a more robust discussion of the primary's position on the calendar among Republicans across the state.

The resolution (see below) has apparently garnered support in Republican organizations across the state. That is, perhaps, less important than what changes it calls on the legislature to make. Layered into this is a request that the General Assembly not only move the primary back into compliance with the national party rules, but to consider both moving the North Carolina presidential primary to a position on the calendar that allows the North Carolina Republican Party maximum latitude in choosing how to allocate its delegates to the national convention and moving the primaries for state and local offices into the same position as the presidential primary. The former means a date on or after March 15, not the March 1 date that Chairman Pope outlined. The latter means cost savings to the taxpayers of North Carolina who would not have to foot the bill for multiple primaries and runoff elections with a presidential primary separated from the remaining nomination contests.

The concurrent primaries request is a no-brainer in a state that has traditionally held all of its primaries together on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May during much of the post-reform era. But opening the door to a possible winner-take-all primary in North Carolina is of greater note. North Carolina law calls for a proportional allocation of delegates to the national convention2, but Republican National Committee rules (see Rule 16(b) here) allow state parties to create their own rules (within the parameters of the national party rules) that supersede any state law should their be a conflict. North Carolina Republicans have generally followed the state law in past presidential election cycles, so a move to a winner-take-all allocation method would break with that tradition.

No, there are not any bills currently before the North Carolina state legislature, but there is external pressure being exerted on the body to make a change to the presidential primary date. And now, it appears to be more than national pressure, direct or otherwise. There looks to be a local component adding to the intricacy of the situation as well.

1 Below is the resolution as posted on the Greater Greensboro Republican Women's Club site:
Whereas:  North Carolina 2013 election law changed the date of the North Carolina Presidential Primary from mid-May to late February;

Whereas:  Republican National Committee (RNC) rule changes of January, 2014 require that only four states, Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Nevada, be allowed to hold their presidential primaries before March 1;

Whereas:  RNC rules penalize any state holding its presidential primary prior to March 1 by drastically reducing that state’s number of allowable delegates to the National Republican Presidential Convention to no more than 12 delegates;

Whereas:  The North Carolina Republican Party will be allowed 72 delegates to the 2016 National Republican Presidential Convention if it complies with RNC rules;

Whereas:  Additionally, RNC rules dictate that states holding their presidential primary between the dates of March 1 and March 15 must allocate their delegates to the National Presidential Convention proportionally rather than having the option of proportionality versus winner-take-all allocation;

Whereas:  Previous North Carolina primaries in presidential years have been inclusive of presidential, state, and local races, rather than having a separate presidential primary and a state/local primary.

Whereas:  Creating separate dates for the North Carolina Presidential Primary and the North Carolina primary for state and local races increases the costs to the state and counties for the duplicate voting requirements.

Be it Resolved on this __th day of _____, 2015, that the _______________________:  (1)  Supports the NCGOP in selecting a presidential primary date that complies with RNC rules, and (2)  Encourages the NC General Assembly to change the North Carolina presidential primary date from one in February to one that will allow maximum Republican delegate allocation to the National Republican Presidential Convention while still giving North Carolina more influence in the selection of the Republican presidential candidate, and (3)  Encourages the NC General Assembly to specify that the primary for all NC national, state and local contests be the same date as the newly-selected NC presidential primary date, thereby eliminating the need for additional primary dates.
2 This is a function of delegate selection/allocation rules historically mandated by the Democratic Party. To comply with the rules requiring a proportional allocation of delegates, Democrats in control of the North Carolina General Assembly created the law requiring it. That law has been in place as it is currently written since 1983.

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Are Early States Losing Clout?

The usually sensible and always thorough Steve Peoples with the Associated Press missed the mark, FHQ thinks, in his weekend dispatch from New Hampshire.

The premise: Early states may be losing clout in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process because of the rise of super PACs (and their money) and changes to the Republican calendar/rules.

I don't know that FHQ can quite accept that. I can see the point. It makes sense, but I don't know that it is true. But the social scientist in me has a problem with the basic premise. The social scientist in me sees a research question and understandably asks for what data there is. What can we observe?

First the premise. The whole argument here is that 2016 will feature a compressed calendar (with a lot of primaries and caucuses in March) and a new avenue through which campaigns and their allies can receive and spend money that was not fully available four years ago at this time (super PACs). That apparently equals candidates, their campaigns and their allies looking beyond the very earliest states to spend their time and money.


But if we're talking about an influx of new resources through new channels, it seems that we would also be talking about a bigger pie. Does a bigger pie -- a larger pot of resources -- mean that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are losing something, clout or otherwise?1 It could also mean that other states are gaining something due to the new conditions in the 2016 cycle. If we're talking about an increase in the pot relative to 2012, then it is not really the same zero-sum game anymore. Just because March contest states are gaining doesn't mean that the carve-out states are losing. The two are not mutually exclusive in a changed environment.

Yet, I get it. A lot of Peoples' story is futurecasting. It is speculating on what will or may happen in 2016. But that is not a testable premise really. Sure, we can guess. We can speculate. But if we look at candidate behavior now or what they have been up to since January 1 through now, it still looks an awful lot like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina followed by everyone else when we look at candidate visits. The carve-outs lead the pack among the prospective (or announced) Republicans. Behind them are the other typical haunts for Republican presidential candidates: California, Texas, Florida, New York and Washington, DC. No, not all of those are red states or early states, but they are all stops that frequently pop up on the itinerary of anyone on the fundraising circuit.

One more thing and I'll let this one rest. It should not come as a surprise that campaign aides and veteran political operatives are cautioning us of the impending chaotic slugfest to come in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. Those are precisely the folks who stand to gain the most from the race stretching out well into March if not beyond. And even if that does not happen, they can at least bide their time nurturing the illusion that this will go on and on and on...

As FHQ mentioned late in the 2012 Republican race, these things are over sooner rather than later. There is a point when even individuals who can afford to keep a candidate afloat decide that the effort is futile, that pouring more money into a cause that cannot win but might breed more chaos heading into a national convention is just not worth it.

Will we hit that point during or after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina? I don't know. But I do know that, despite how things look now, those contests will winnow the field of Republicans vying for the party's presidential nomination. That's what the carve-outs are: winnowing contests. They will still be that in 2016 when all this talk of lost clout will be just that.


[NOTE: Peoples' story also mentions that June 3 is the last date on which primaries and caucuses can be held in the Republican presidential nomination process. I don't know the origin of that information, but the RNC rules -- Rule 16(c)(1) -- specify that that cutoff is the second Saturday in June. That would be Saturday, June 11, 2016.]

1 Poor Nevada is just a redheaded stepchild in all of this from the looks of it. There are, I guess, consequences on the Republican side for reluctantly adding the Silver state caucuses (because the DNC already had), and then the state Republican Party having issues in their first two attempts at caucuses in the spotlight in 2008 and 2012.

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Vermont Tries a Different Tack in Challenging New Hampshire's First in the Nation Status

With legislation to move the Vermont presidential primary up to coincide with the New Hampshire primary stuck in neutral, a couple of Democratic legislators in the Green Mountain state are taking an alternate approach. Last week, Rep. David Deen (D-136th, Putney) and Rep. Michael Mrowicki (D-138th, Putney) introduced Joint (House) Resolution 11. The measure is a scaled back version of the previously filed bills in the state House and Senate. Instead of giving the power to set the date of the primary to the Vermont secretary of state, the proposed resolution would request that the office of the secretary of state study the feasibility of shifting into an earlier New Hampshire-aligned presidential primary election.

If the resolution is passed, the secretary of state's office would, again, be requested to complete the study before December 15, 2015. If the study takes that long -- completion in mid-December -- that would give the state a very small window in which to prepare for an earlier than usual primary for the 2016 cycle. And that depends on the Secretary of State Jim Condos actually going along with the plan. He was skeptical of the move to encroach on New Hampshire's first in the nation turf after the state Senate bill became public and said as much in the original committee hearing for the bill back in February.

The resolution/study route is not a unique one when it comes to presidential primary positioning. Indiana attempted to do something similar with its later (May) primary during its 2009 legislative session.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Another "January" Presidential Primary Bill Out of Nevada

Early last week in the Nevada state Assembly, the Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections heard testimony on legislation to create a presidential primary in the Silver state and schedule it in January. Part of what came out of that hearing was that the bill -- AB 302 -- was, according to the sponsors, introduced on a deadline and that the true intention was never to schedule the primary in January. Rather, the purpose was to get legislation in the legislative pipeline in order to have the legislature consider and debate the utility of trading in the caucuses/convention system the state parties have used for selecting and allocating delegates to the national convention for a state-run and state-funded presidential primary.

Quietly, the day before that hearing on Monday, March 23, SB 421 was introduced. That bill is identical to the Assembly version -- AB 302. It calls for a January presidential primary consolidated with primaries for other offices in the state. And while that is provocative in its own right, the legislation appears to have been filed under similar circumstances with similar motives. Like the Assembly version, SB 421 got in just under the wire. The Assembly version was filed just before the deadline for individual legislators to introduce legislation. On the state Senate side, SB 421 was introduced by the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections on the final day for committees to file legislation.

Signs point toward this being another last minute filing intended to have the state Senate consider transitioning from caucuses to a primary. But this bill, like the one in the Assembly, is likely to face similar questions once it gets to the hearing stage.

UPDATE 4/2/15: Hearing for Senate bill strips out January primary provision
UPDATE 4/9/15: Third Tuesday in February primary bill passed Senate committee
UPDATE 4/10/15: Amended Assembly bill for February primary option clears committee

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Arkansas Senate Passes Bill to Create Separate March Presidential Primary

The Associated Press reported earlier in the week that the Arkansas State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected a bill to position the presidential primary in the Natural state on the proposed SEC primary date.

Now, as FHQ has detailed, there are two bills to move the Arkansas primary into that position. One would create a separate presidential primary election and the other proposes moving the entire May preferential primary to the first Tuesday in March. It is not clear which one was "rejected" and there is no record of any rejection.1

Regardless of that midweek development, the aforementioned Arkansas state Senate committee yesterday slightly tweaked SB 389 -- the bill to create the separate presidential primary -- and recommended it pass the chamber.2 And during floor time today -- Friday, March 27 -- the Senate passed SB 389 by a 20-5 vote.

The measure now heads to the state House for its consideration.

SB 765, the other bill, is still on the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs docket and may also be considered at some point. FHQ has discussed the trade-offs of creating a separate primary or moving everything up in the Arkansas case here.

1 It should be noted that this may or may not be an AP problem. It could be attributable to a less than user-friendly Arkansas legislature website not providing the information that sites in other states share more readily and easily.

2 The amendment had nothing to do with the date of the primary.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Michigan Democrats Opt In to March 8 Presidential Primary

The Michigan Democratic Party on Thursday, March 26 released for public comment a draft version of the party's 2016 delegate selection plan. Here's the press release from state party chairman, Lon Johnson:
RE: Michigan Democratic Party Makes 2016 Delegate Selection Plan available for Review
Date: Thursday, March 26, 2015 
The Michigan Democratic Party has completed its proposed Delegate Selection Plan for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The plan will be available for review for a thirty day public comment period on the MDP website at michigandems.com/delegateselection beginning today, March 26, 2015. After the comment period expires, the Plan will be submitted to the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee for final approval and further action with the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee. 
The Plan provides that Michigan will have a total of 152 delegates and 11 alternates, to be selected proportionately, based on the results of a government-run primary. This "first determining step" in the Michigan delegate selection process will occur on Tuesday, March 8th, 2016, to be held in conjunction with the Michigan GOP Presidential Primary. Further information can be found in the Plan itself. 
If there are any questions, comments or criticisms about the Plan, you may contact the Michigan Democratic Party.
The public comment period is standard operating procedure in the context of the Democratic nomination process. National party rules require state parties to draft these delegate selection plans, open them for a period for public comment and then submit the plans to the DNC/Rules and Bylaws Committee for approval usually by early May of the year preceding a presidential election (May 4, 2015 for this cycle).

More importantly, layered into both plan and Johnson press release that Michigan Democrats plan on opting into the presidential primary in lieu of caucusing in 2016. Michigan Democrats have had an on-again, off-again relationship with the presidential primary in the Great Lakes state over the years. The party caucused in 2012, but attempted to use the primary in 2008 (though that non-compliant January primary famously led to penalties from the DNC that cycle).

Michigan Democrats, then, seem to be headed for a March 8 presidential primary pending approval by the Michigan Democratic Party State Central Committee.

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Amended Oklahoma Presidential Primary Bill Stymied in Committee

The Oklahoma state House Committee on Elections and Ethics convened on Wednesday, March 25 to  consider several state Senate-passed bills. Among them was SB 233, the legislation proposing the Oklahoma presidential preference primary be shifted back three weeks on the primary calendar. The bill was originally requested by the Oklahoma Republican Party with the intention of it returning to a more winner-take-all method of delegate allocation (after one cycle of dabbling with a more proportional method required by Republican National Committee rules).1

Due to conflicts raised by elections administrators in the state, an amendment was offered in the committee to push the date of the primary back two additional weeks in order to have it coincide with an election date called for in state law. The state provides for an opportunity to hold various elections on the first Tuesday in March and the first Tuesday in April. Adding a third election in that window is a perceived burden on those elections officials.

That amendment -- to move the Oklahoma primary to the first Tuesday in April -- was unanimously accepted by the Elections and Ethics Committee.

However, the move back -- in general, not just the further push back into April -- raised some concerns. After passing the state Senate with only a handful of dissenting votes, SB 233 faced some backlash from not only House committee members but in public testimony as well. That back and forth between the House author of the bill, Rep. Gary Banz (R-101st, Midwest City), and members of the committee was instructive in highlighting the trade-offs involved in the potential move.

  1. ...staying in an earlier March position with potentially more candidate/media attention but at the price of having to proportionally allocate delegates, or...
  2. ...shifting back to a later (relative to the March position) April date that satisfies election administrators in the state and allows the Oklahoma Republican Party to allocate convention delegates on a winner-take-all basis, but at a cost of the primary falling after the point on the calendar at which someone has clinched the nomination (or is likely too far ahead to be caught in the remaining contests).
That really does neatly encapsulate the competing interests involved in these decisions: state parties, state governments, national parties (rules) and the voters themselves.

As for the Wednesday committee hearing, the bill was laid over for future consideration not so much because there was an impasse on SB 233, but because the full committee was not present and the no one from the Oklahoma Republican Party was on hand to (directly) offer their reasoning for the later primary date.

The clock is ticking on this. Oklahoma House committees have to have voted up or down on Senate-passed legislation by April 10. The provides the Elections and Ethics Committee only a couple of additional opportunities to tie up any loose ends with SB 233. If they cannot, Oklahoma will stay on March 1 and Republicans would be forced to proportionally allocate their national convention delegation to the various candidates.

For now, however, this one is on pause.

Hat tip to Randy Krehbiel at the Tulsa World whose story alerted FHQ to yesterday's hearing.

1 The modifiers are important on the types of allocation in this instance. Oklahoma Republicans have had a winner-take-all by congressional method of delegate allocation in the past, not a true winner-take-all distribution. In addition, the proportional method the party utilized in 2012 was conditionally winner-take-all by congressional district, but functionally proportional by congressional district. If no candidate received a majority of the vote either statewide or in the Sooner state's five congressional districts, then the allocation was proportional within those units (statewide and congressional district). That is not a truly proportional plan in the conventional sense.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kansas Senate Unanimously Passes Bill Repealing Presidential Primary

The Kansas state Senate unanimously passed SB 239 on Wednesday, March 25. By a vote of 39-0 the members of the Senate opted to repeal the presidential primary law in lieu of canceling the election for the sixth consecutive cycle in the Sunflower state.

The measure now moves on to the state House where the a similar bill is already being considered. Should either bill pass and be signed into law, it would permanently end the possibility of a state-funded presidential primary option in Kansas (unless a future legislature reverses course). In the absence of a primary election since 1992, Kansas state parties have selected and allocated delegates to the national conventions through a state party-run and funded caucuses/convention process.

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Amended Kansas Senate Bill Would Now Eliminate Presidential Primary Altogether

Last week both efforts to cancel at least the 2016 presidential primary in Kansas pushed forward. However, a divergence between the two chambers' respective bills emerged in the process. The House version was amended in committee to not just eliminate the 2016 primary, but to repeal the presidential primary portion of the Kansas statutes, killing the primary altogether. On the Senate side, the committee passed the original version of its bill, which stuck to the quadrennial protocol that has defined the presidential primary election in the Sunflower state over the last two plus decades. Basically, that has entailed canceling the primary every four years, kicking the can down the road and leaving the door open to the possibility of the state funding a primary option and the state parties utilizing it.

That door now appears to be closing. The Senate, in considering SB 239 on Tuesday, March 24, amended its version, syncing it with the House version. This would alter the standard operating procedure described above. It would cancel the primary for good barring another subsequent act of the legislature to reverse course and reestablish a presidential primary election.

The Senate Committee on the Whole -- the floor consideration of the bill -- recommended that the bill pass the chamber as amended. That clears the way for a final vote that, at this stage, seems nothing more than a formality.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nevada Won't Have a January Presidential Primary in 2016

However, AB 302 will live on in a different form.

The Nevada Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections convened on Tuesday, March 24 to conduct a hearing a handful of bills. Among them was AB 302, the legislation introduced by Assembly Speaker John Hambrick (R-2nd, Clark) to revamp the nominations process in the Silver state. That bill called for, among other things, the creation of a presidential primary option in Nevada and the coupling of it with the primaries for other offices in January of a presidential election year.

Suffice it to say, those provisions alone held some fairly significant ramifications for not only Nevada but the general order of the national presidential nomination process as well.

Most of the problem areas appear to have been shed or are about to be shed from the bill.

January primary? Out.

Coupling of the two sets of primary elections (in January)? Out.

Creation of a presidential primary? Still in.

And that -- the possible creation of a presidential primary -- was the crux of the hearing.

Daniel Stewart from Speaker Hambrick's office provided a rough sketch of the details that would be in the bill after he described to the committee what was going to be amended out. But first he mentioned that the original bill was nothing more than a placeholder, introduced to beat the March 16 deadline for individual legislators to introduce legislation for the 2015 session. The intention, then, was never to attempt to create a Nevada presidential primary and move it into January.

The bill now seems -- and it is still "seems" because the amended version of the bill was not available to the committee during the hearing and is not online at this point -- to create a presidential primary option for a single date in February for the state parties in Nevada to opt into at their choosing. In other words, the state parties could opt for either party-run caucuses or a hypothetical state-run primary. There was no discussion about how a date would be chosen. Jointly by the two major parties? By, say, the secretary of state? That is a matter that will have to be ironed out in the amended version of the bill.

In reaction to the proposed changes, the members of the committee fell into to two basic camps: 1) receptive if not supportive of a switch from caucuses to a primary and 2) those concerned such a switch would endanger Nevada's first in the West status protection in the national parties' delegate selection rules.

Committee chairman, Lynn Stewart (R-22nd, Clark) and Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman (R-34th, Clark) both liked that a prospective primary would likely have the effect of increasing participation in the presidential nomination process and that a primary would have the potential impact of tamping down on some of the confusion that plagued the Nevada caucuses process on the Republican side (particularly in 2008 and 2012).

However, Democrats, Assemblyman Elliot Anderson (D-15th, Clark) and Assemblyman James Ohrenschall (D-12th, Clark) worried aloud that trading in the caucuses for a primary, specifically when the Democratic National Committee rules protect the Nevada caucuses, might negatively affect the privileged position Nevadans have enjoyed since the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee added Nevada as a carve-out state in 2006.1

The subsequent testimony from interested parties for, against and neutral offered more of the same in terms of reactions. The exception was the commentary from Nevada Republican Party Vice Chair Jim DeGraffenreid, who came out against both the original bill and the amended version more fully discussed in the hearing. He 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. [This is an issue that has come up in other states as well.] And in response to the question of whether the Nevada Republican Party was against the bill, he said that was the party position.

The hearing on AB 302 basically posed more new questions than answered any. It opens up the conflict that is not foreign to other states: more participation in a state-funded, state-run primary or a party's right to freely associate with voters of its choosing in a process of its choosing. This bill may or may not move in its amended form -- the devil's in the details -- but even if it does, one party in the state (Republican) seems intent on sticking with caucuses and the other one (Democrats) may too due to the conflict a primary option may pose in the face of DNC delegate selection rules. The parties will likely have input on this and that likely produces a spectrum of outcomes ranging from a Utah-like system where state parties have an opt-in but a primary depends on (possibly uncertain) state funding to the bill getting bottled up in committee because neither party intends to participate.

This one is unsettled but for one thing: There will not be a January presidential primary in Nevada next year.

UPDATE 3/29/15: Senate version of January bill introduced
UPDATE 4/2/15: Hearing for Senate bill strips out January primary provision
UPDATE 4/9/15: Third Tuesday in February primary bill passed Senate committee
UPDATE 4/10/15: Amended Assembly bill for February primary option clears committee

1 That decision had the effect of forcing on national Republicans an early Nevada caucus that they did not necessarily want, but that they, nonetheless, reluctantly added to the mix in 2008.

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Utah Democrats Appear Headed for March 22 Caucuses in 2016 ...and online voting?

With a presidential primary option now off the table in Utah in 2016, Democrats are eyeing March 22 as the date of their precinct caucuses according to the executive director of the Utah Democratic Party. State party delegate selection plans are not due to the Democratic National Committee until May, but Lauren Littlefield provided a bit of a sneak peek at one aspect of it in comments on the 2016 process to Utah Policy.

March 22 caucuses would align Utah Democrats with the primary in southern neighbor, Arizona. That is also the date the Utah presidential primary would have occurred under the provisions of the bill that failed to pass the legislature during the now-adjourned 2015 legislative session.

The prospective date -- FHQ will call it that until March 22 is confirmed in the forthcoming delegate selection plan -- was not the only bit of news from Littlefield. She also indicated that the party would also work toward facilitating online voting in the 2016 caucuses. Online voting is in vogue in Utah at the proposal stage anyway. It was a component of the 2014 legislation that would have moved Utah to the first position on the presidential primary calendar. In the most recent legislative session, it was a part of the bill to change the February primary option to March. Utah Republicans are also considering adding online voting as an element of their caucuses process in 2016.

And online voting is not expressly forbidden in the DNC delegate selection rules. The catch is that a state party having an online element to their delegate selection process must meet certain conditions first. Where Utah Democrats run afoul of Rule 2.G is in the fact that online voting is limited to state party-run primaries. Utah Democrats appear ready to select and allocate delegates to the national convention in Philadelphia through a caucuses/convention system. The DNC rules are also limiting in that the online vote can only apply to a presidential preference vote and not the other business that would typically occur at precinct caucuses. That conflict also seems relevant in the context of the walk up and mail-in options that are required alongside the online vote. None of that -- other party business at caucuses, providing for online/mail-in votes -- mesh all that well with the caucuses process. That is why absentee and military voting problems continue to be raised in any discussion of the shortcomings of the caucuses/convention process generally.

Utah Democrats could try to pin all of this on state Republicans who control the state government and who scuttled the primary option for 2016. That may open the door being successfully granted a waiver from the DNC to hold online voting. However, the waiver process does not really apply to or address online voting. It is meant to provide relief to state Democratic parties forced to conduct a delegate selection process that in some way breaks the rules (that have penalties for violation). That parenthetical is important. It should be noted that there is no specified penalty for conducting some form of online vote as part of the delegate selection process. Things may get messy certifying those delegates, but that is why it is important to get the blessing of the DNC first.

One other alternative may be for the party to conduct a firehouse primary in conjunction with those March precinct meetings. That is what the Utah Democratic Party did in 2004. And that would better meet the requirements in the DNC rules calling for 1) a primary and 2) a walk up option to be paired with online/mail-in opportunities.

NOTE: FHQ should add that we followed up with Bryan Schott at Utah Policy about his source for the March 22 caucuses date and he confirmed that it came up in the course of his interview with Lauren Littlefield from the Utah Democratic Party.

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Presidential Primary Bill Gets the Thumbs Up in Idaho Committee

The Senate-passed bill to reestablish a presidential primary in Idaho and schedule it as a stand-alone election in March was favorably reported out of committee on the House side on the morning or Tuesday, March 24. The Idaho state House State Affairs Committee passed SB 1066 on to the floor for consideration with only minimal opposition. There were at least five dissenting -- one Republican joined the four Democrats on the committee -- votes recorded out of the 17 member committee.

UPDATE: FHQ dropped in on the committee hearing right before the vote on SB 1066 was held, so we missed much of the discussion on the bill. But it appears that the opposition to Idaho moving back to a presidential primary -- well, creating a separate, state-funded presidential primary in March -- is mainly coming from the minority party Democrats. What Republican opposition exists centers on the cost to taxpayers (via Betsy Russell):
“I am torn on this bill for a couple of reasons,” [Rep. Linda] Luker (R) said, after several people testified that they felt excluded from the presidential primary election process because they weren’t able to attend GOP caucuses in the last election. “I understand the need to be inclusive in terms of having everyone have an opportunity to vote.” But, he said, “It’s public funds. … I just can’t support the public expenditure part of this.”
By all accounts, though, it seems likely that moving to an earlier format that will increase participation in the nomination process will win out over that position when the bill hits the floor of the Idaho state House. That would have Idaho joining Michigan on March 8 on the presidential primary calendar.

UPDATE II: The price tag may be an issue, but as Nathan Brown added:
Supporters contend that is a highball estimate and the real cost would be about half that figure since many counties have school elections on that March date anyway.
This is an issue that has come up in the past but FHQ has not really highlighted. The would-be March 8 presidential primary would be conducted concurrent with school elections that fall on the same spot on the calendar.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

On 'Has the Republican Presidential Nominating System Changed Since 2008?'

Seth Masket, I thought, had an entirely reasonable reaction to Jim Rutenberg's New York Times Magazine piece on Ben Carson.

In a nutshell, Rutenberg argued that the emergence of the Tea Party in combination with the rise of social media, Citizen United's impact on campaign fundraising and changes in delegate selection rules have disrupted the normal rhythms of the Republican presidential nomination process since 2008. But as Seth points out, if we test that hypothesis on the one election cycle in the dataset since 2008, the evidence is not all that convincing.

It isn't. Despite all of that, well, noise between 2008 and 2012, Mitt Romney, the former governor and previous presidential aspirant, still emerged as the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. The signals that political scientists look at -- roughly poll position, fundraising, endorsements and to some lesser extent staff hires -- all basically pointed in the same direction heading into primary season in 2012.

But the rules part of this story does still stick out to me. Seth nailed the macro part of this, but FHQ feels compelled to add some of the micro side as well.

FHQ talked with Jim Rutenberg about the rules changes for his story, and he approached us from a particular angle: the rules changes for 2016, not 2012 (at least initially). He raised the concerns that some in the grassroots/Paul faction of the party raised at the Tampa convention in August 2012. Mainly, that the establishment within the Republican National Committee was attempting to cut off the spigot on them, eliminating the proportionality window installed for the 2012 cycle, prohibiting future non-binding caucuses and raising the bar on the number of states won/delegations controlled required to place a candidate's name on the nomination ballot.1

In other words, the Paul folks saw loopholes in the rules they able to successfully exploit in 2012 being closed and did not really like it.

If we look at those three rules changes specifically, though, their origins are a mixed bag. The proportionality requirement added by the (former RNC chair) Michael Steele-led Temporary Delegate Selection Committee added the change as a means of slowing the nomination process down some to build the sort of energy, enthusiasm and grassroots support that the drawn out Democratic nomination race had produced in 2008. Unintended consequence alert: That is kind of what the RNC got, just not in the way intended. The energy, enthusiasm and grassroots support were there, but instead of buoying the party, it threatened to tear it apart to some degree.

The non-binding caucuses have been a tradition in the Republican process, another factor left up to the discretion of the states. It was something that Christian conservatives aligned with Pat Robertson's  candidacy in 1988 were able to work to their advantage in 1988 to some extent. But that effort was not carried through to the level that the Paul folks were able to push things in 2012.

Finally, the Rule 40 changes -- increasing the number of states a candidate must control at the convention from five to eight -- added insult to injury for the Paul/liberty contingent at the convention. It had been an afterthought of a rule before -- at least as far as convention proceedings go -- but was the final piece to the puzzle of preventing 2012 shenanigans in future Republican nomination races.

All three were the openings that Ron Paul supporters saw in 2012 and the RNC sought to curtail for the future. But only the proportionality requirement was something created for the 2012 cycle. And that is where Rutenberg's picture of rules changes for 2012 is lacking. It misses the nuance, the part where the rules changes did not really undermine the 2012 Republican nomination process. There were rules changes for 2012, but they did not have the intended effect.

Actually, it was probably a failure to change the baseline 2008 rules that in some ways doomed the 2012 process. In retrospect, not upping the penalties on rules breakers really came back to haunt the RNC. It allowed Florida, Arizona, Michigan and the trio of non-binding, early February states to elongate the primary calendar. That had the effect of stretching out the nomination race in ways beyond what was intended in the new proportionality requirement.2 The primaries and caucuses were so scatter across the 2012 primary calendar that Mitt Romney did not reach the requisite number of delegates to clinch the nomination until the Texas primary at the end of May. And that was nearly two months after everyone but Ron Paul had either withdrawn from the race or suspended their campaign.

The rules changes for 2012, then, did not really undermine the Republican nomination process three years ago. Rather, the rules were exploited, or in a less negative connotation, exercised in a if not new way, then in a manner that they had not in quite a while. That had an impact on the course of the Republican nomination race.

...but not its ultimate outcome.

Seth is absolutely right about that. The rules, however, did shape the way that Romney became the nominee. That, in turn, created the perceived need for rules changes for 2016 to manage the Ben Carson problem or the Rand Paul problem or the Ted Cruz problem or whomever outside of the establishment comes along. Those candidates will not have those former avenues to exploit in 2016.

Has the Republican nominating system changed since 2008?

In a macro sense, no. But the rules have changed and had some impact.

But, then, the rules tend to change every cycle...

1 The careful reader will note that the proportionality requirement is a part of the 2016 Republican delegate selection rules. That was a product of the may/shall switch in Tampa that was edited by the Republican Rules Committee and approved by the full RNC in 2014. Its return was in a truncated form: a two week window at the beginning of March with a tighter definition of proportionality.

2 If one looks at the state party responses to the addition of the proportionality requirement, the changes are very subtle. That is a function of a couple of factors. First, state parties tend to choose the path of least resistance. If the parties cannot continue with the delegate allocation rules they have used in past, then they usually opt for the smallest change possible. Second, the RNC gave the states significant latitude in achieving proportionality. The definition provided a number of avenues for states to meet the requirement. Together, those made for very small changes to 2012 allocation plans as compared to 2008.

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Bush Involved in Recent Florida Presidential Primary Legislation?

This is interesting. From Lee Fang at The Intercept:
State Representative Matt Gaetz wrote to Bush on January 2nd that he is “concerned that Florida’s current primary date will lead to proportional allocation of delegates” and that a “winner take all” system would be preferable. 
“Unless you ask me otherwise, I’ll file legislation to move our primary date back a week,” Gaetz told Bush, who responded to say that his political advisor Sally Bradshaw would give Gaetz a call. “10 4,” Gaetz shot back. [Emphasis FHQ's]
Fang couches this exchange as coordination between Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature. Maybe, but there are a few things that cast some doubt on that assertion.

First, given the RNC penalty structure, the date of the Florida primary under the 2013 law was a bit unclear. That was not a new issue in 2015.

Secondly, Rep. Gaetz did not actually sponsor the legislation that came out of the Florida House and was subsequently signed into law. That plus the fact that the action the state legislator calls for in the email did not match with what some in Florida interpreted as the move in the recently passed legislation.1

In any event, Florida Republicans have historically had some form or fashion of winner-take-all or winner-take-most delegate allocation rules. Neither that, nor the fact that Florida Republicans wanted to extend that tradition should come as a surprise. It would likely have been true with or without Bush or Rubio eyeing runs at the White House.

But the thing is Rubio was involved in the 2013 law change that initially brought Florida back under compliance with the Republican National Committee rules. That was clearer than this exchange.

1 Some interpreted the presidential primary law change as affecting a two week change from March 1 to March 15.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Massachusetts Bill Would Add Rank Choice Voting to Presidential Primary Ballots for Military/Overseas Voters

FHQ mentioned this one before, but it was still at the draft stage when the Vermont bill was introduced (and discussed) back in February.

However, the draft bill in Massachusetts to allow instant run-off voting for military and overseas voters has now become introduced on the House side in the General Court. H 609 would allow military personnel and overseas voters to rank their preferences in a presidential nomination race in order to avoid the problem of potential wasted votes. This is a particularly acute problem in a sequential, state-by-state presidential nomination process in which the field continually winnows. Wasted votes are more prevalent in a scenario in which overseas voters make decisions without full certainty about the candidates who are actually in the field at the point on the calendar on which a state primary is due to be conducted.

New Hampshire voters, for instance, would have a full (or fuller) set of candidates to choose from in January/February than Massachusetts voters participating in a March 1 primary. But if one is overseas and voting in advance, one does not have advance knowledge of what the field will look like on March 1 after the first few contests in the carve-out states.

Again, as is the case in the Vermont situation, this is a clever way of overcoming some of the issues attendant to overseas voting in the presidential nomination process.

NOTE: There are at least four other active bills in the Massachusetts House to bring rank choice voting into elections more broadly.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Presidential Primary or Caucuses? In Washington State It Hinges on What State Democrats Decide

FHQ has had this on the back burner for a while now, but a Thursday, March 12 committee hearing in Washington made quite plain that the decision to hold a primary or select and allocate delegates through a caucuses/convention system depends on Democrats in the Evergreen state.

The hearing in the Committee on State Government in the Democratic-controlled state House concerned the effort to move up the Washington state presidential primary from May to March. The catch to all of this is that Washington Democrats have in the post-reform era traditionally used the caucuses/convention system to select and allocate delegates to the national convention. That has been true in every cycle since the Washington presidential primary was created by citizen initiative in 1989. Still, SB 5978 was designed to entice both parties into using, at least partially, the presidential primary in 2016. The legislation would create a more attractive contest by moving the primary to an earlier date (the second Tuesday in March) and providing the parties with a publicly available list of primary voters generated by the party declarations/oaths required to participate.1

Those are the carrots, but there are sticks, too. To receive the partisan data from the primary, both parties have to opt into at least partially using the primary. If only one party opts in or neither does, the primary becomes a non-binding beauty contest with a top two-type ballot.2 All candidates from both parties would appear on the ballot and all voters -- sans declaration -- could vote for whichever candidate they preferred.

The hope from the bill's sponsors and Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R), who requested the legislation be introduced, is that the benefits outweigh the costs and both parties opt into the process. However, the proposal is more tailored to the Republican delegate process/traditions than it is Washington Democrats'. Again, Democrats in the Evergreen state have stuck with a caucuses/convention process for selecting and allocating delegates throughout the past eleven presidential election cycles, including all of what might be called the primary era in Washington. Since 1992, Washington Republicans have utilized a two-pronged process in the years in which the Republican nomination process is competitive.3 The party splits the delegate allocation across both the presidential primary and a caucuses/convention process. The last time this happened in 2008, the the division was roughly 50/50, but twice as many delegates were allocated via the caucuses/convention as compared to the primary in 2000.

SB 5978 does not require the state parties in Washington to fully use the primary (to allocate all of its delegates). If both parties opt in, each only has to allocate some of its delegates through the primary election. That better fits the traditions and practices of the Republican Party in Washington than it does Washington Democrats. National delegate selection rules allow such a split on the Republican side, but national Democrats have almost completely eliminated the practice. Texas is the only state in the Democratic nomination process that splits its delegate allocation across both a primary and caucuses. And Texas Democrats have an exemption from the DNC to avoid breaking rules that prohibit the two-step process.

The result is that this bill makes it easier for Republicans in the Evergreen state to opt into the presidential primary than Democrats in the state. Whereas Washington Republicans can dip their toe in to whatever extent they see fit, the Washington Democratic Party is faced with an all or nothing proposition; either the primary or caucuses. And history would seem to indicate that Democrats in the state will stick with the caucuses/convention system anyway.

Still, the bill, if passed and signed into law, would require both parties to opt in in some way for the presidential primary to be binding on the allocation of delegates. So, while Republicans in the state seems supportive of the bill -- It was proposed by the Republican secretary of state and had the full support of the majority Republican caucus in the Washington state Senate. -- whether a primary is binding or a beauty contest depends on Washington Democrats opting into using a primary instead of caucuses. That decision will come later on in the spring at the April meeting of the Washington Democratic State Central Committee. If the committee votes to include a primary in the state party's draft delegate selection plan, then SB 5978 may have legs.

But if Washington Democrats retain a caucuses/convention process in that delegate selection plan, then the Senate-passed bill is likely dead. That, in turn, means the May presidential primary -- a beauty contest without both parties on board -- called for in state law would cost the state close to $11 million. That may make the House bill to cancel the primary a more viable option.

But until Washington Democrats make their choice of delegate selection mode, that question is unanswerable and SB 5978 is in limbo. Neither the legislature nor the governor would sign off on a plan to fund a primary neither knows will be binding until after the Democrats' April meeting.

UPDATE: It should also be noted that Washington Republicans would be less likely to opt into a two-step process if the state law remains the same and the presidential primary is in May -- and not postponed until 2020. A late primary would not be an attractive option for the party, particularly if it comes after the other delegates are allocated through the caucuses/convention process and/or the Republican nomination has already been decided. In total, that would provide some incentive for Republican legislators in the state to support legislation canceling the primary if Democrats opt to stick with caucuses.

1 Those lists of partisans can be and/or are used by the parties to more effectively identify and target voters in the subsequent general election.

2 No, it is not really a top two ballot. The Washington presidential primary is just part of the presidential nomination process. Unlike, say, a US Senate primary in Washington, where the top two finishers in the primary would face off against each other in the fall general election, a Washington presidential primary would not be determinative of who would be on the general election ballot in the presidential race. It would play roughly a little less than 1/50th of that role. Yet, the primary ballot in this instance would mimic what a primary ballot would look like in Washington for other offices.

3 That is true with one exception. The Republican nomination was contested in 2012, but the Washington presidential primary was canceled during that cycle. In 1996, 2000 and 2008, however, the Republican Party in Washington split its delegate allocation between the primary and a caucuses/convention system.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Efforts to Cancel 2016 Presidential Primary Move Forward in Kansas

The legislation to cancel the Kansas presidential primary for the sixth consecutive cycle advanced in both state legislative chambers this week.

Despite some pushback to postponing the presidential primary another four years in a state Senate committee hearing, the Committee on Ethics and Elections favorably recommended that SB 239 pass the chamber. And on the House side of the capitol, a less contentious committee hearing (with Republican Party of Kansas support) yielded the same result. HB 2398 was also recommended for passage by the state House Committee on Elections.

This is a move that could be layered into the discussion of states facing the elimination of presidential primaries due to budgetary constraints. Unlike Louisiana and Massachusetts, however, this has become a quadrennial rite in Kansas over the last two plus decades. The standard operating procedure has been to strike out the coming election year from the statute and replace it with the next subsequent presidential election year. For example, the original legislation in Kansas in both chambers strikes 2016 and replaces it with 2020. State legislators do this every four years in the Sunflower state.

The bill that will be considered on the floor of the state Senate continues to follow that path. In the House, legislators are now taking a different approach. The bill that passed through the House Committee on Elections was amended to eliminate the presidential primary altogether in lieu of going through the motions every four years.

Kansas has been a caucus state for years, but there was still a presidential primary option available in state law (pending funding). That option just has not been funded over the last twenty years. If the House version prevails, that presidential primary option will cease to be, making Kansas a permanent caucus/convention state for presidential nominations and not a de facto caucus state.

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