A little-noticed provision slipped into a pending Department of Defense spending bill by Chuck Schumer might have the effect of forcing states with September primaries to hold them earlier:
The provision requires that absentee ballots be mailed out to potential overseas voters at least 45 days before the general election. Although the provision’s inclusion in a Defense bill is justified by its impact on armed forces members serving overseas, it will affect all overseas voters.
The piece’s author, Eric Black, explains the effect it would have in Minnesota:
The 45-day deadline for mailing the ballots would technically fall after Minesota’s traditional primary date, but [Secretary of State Mark] Ritchie said there would not be enough time to certify the results of a primary election and get ballots printed to meet the deadline.
But Minnesota isn’t the only state with a late primary. In 2008, ten other states had primaries in September: AZ, NH, WI, VT, RI, DE, NY, MA, HI & LA. Meanwhile, FL, AK, WY & WA all had primaries in the second half of August. In other words, this provision could wind up affecting quite a few states. While Black says that MN would likely move its primary to August, others might move them even earlier.
Personally, I’ve always hated late primaries – they only serve as an incumbent protection racket. In my own state of New York, winners of contested primaries have less than two months to turn around and face an entrenched incumbent. Chuck Schumer, in fact, knows this all too well – in 1998, he had a hard-fought nominating contest against Mark Green and Geraldine Ferraro, and then managed to pull off a big upset against Al D’Amato just six weeks later. Of course, now that the shoe is on the other foot, a late primary only helps Schumer… so maybe this wasn’t even on his mind (or maybe he just thinks it’s a good idea anyway).
I’d like to see all of these states consider moving their primaries to June or thereabouts. Not only would that be the democratic thing to do, there’s always a concern about recounts. Indeed, one of the states with late primaries, Alaska, had a lengthy recount last year. Of course, as Black notes, if you have a Franken-style recount in a primary, you’re probably in trouble for the general no matter what. But at least a June election would give everyone more time. Anyhow, I’ll be very curious to see how states react to this, especially since it appears that a lot of folks don’t know this is coming down the pike.