Little-Noticed Federal Law Could Push Late Primaries Earlier

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.

13 thoughts on “Little-Noticed Federal Law Could Push Late Primaries Earlier”

  1. PA holds its primaries in April (Presidential years) or May. That’s always seemed like a comfortable choice. It leaves the summer for a GE campaign.

  2. It gives insurgent primary campaigns time to take hold while also giving the primary winners time to campaign for the general.

  3. Most of these states would never have gotten around to pushing their primaries forward without Federal pressure. VT, for example, has had activists talking about moving the primary forward for at least a couple of years, but nothing ever actually comes of it. This could end up being a very positive development in the long run.  

  4. We tried to move our primary elections up for the same reason, not being able to give overseas voters enough time to vote.

    The GOP all voted against it and Pawlenty vetoed it (there were some other post-Franken provisions to update our voting regulations as well) because it didnt have one of those bullshit government issued ID provisions, as well.  That was a day I truly hated the GOP and thought they were a bunch of political agenda-driven assholes.  (There wasnt a single case of voter fraud during the entire recount, mind you.)

  5. Maryland just moved their primary back to September.  They had it in February to coincide with the presidential primary but were going to go back to their usual September slot.

    Also, hopefully these states get going soon on moving their primaries.  An earlier primary means an earlier filing deadline.  In congressional campaigns, you pretty much have to get going well in advance anyway because of the money you have to raise.  (Unless you’re Dave Loebsack.)  But in state legislative races it’s not unprecedented to see people wait until the last minute to decide they’re going to run, start collecting signatures/pay the filing fee, and then win.  

  6. The NY Times had a story on this last week, and there was more at Frontloading HQ. The bill does allow for waivers, but the Times doesn’t think they’re likely.

    This could also have the potential effect of some states moving their presidential primary later, as they could now hold it in parallel with other June primaries.

  7. I hope that you’ll be doing another one of those filing deadline/primary tables for 2010.  Especially with all these changes that might be coming down the pike.  

  8. I’ve always thought it ridiculous for some states (particularly big ones like NY) to have their primaries so late.

    Here in OH, we have our primaries in either March (presidential) or May (gubernatorial). April-June strikes me as just about the right time for primaries as it gives ample time to gear up for the general election without being absurdly early (i.e. February).

  9. Since the conventions pick the candidates anyway.  But this is good news for those advocating for an earlier date.  Methinks this will start a fight though if they try to implement it for 2010 – it may be really hard to change a filing deadline and a lot of campaigns on the ground would have to change gears to adjust for this.  Put it this way – if you were a late primary state you were planning on having a year till election day – now, your timeline could be halved.  They very politicians who were planning their political futures around these deadlines are now the ones responsible for implementing it.  I’d bet money that at least one state will turn this into a 10th Amendment argument.

  10. Here in Michigan the primary is on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of August.  It works pretty well, I think–gives the full months of August, September and October to the general election campaign while not being so early that people aren’t tuned in.

  11. I believe the NY Times article referenced in a prior comment says that NY avoided having a summer primary because so many people are away. But maybe June wouldn’t be too bad, though a 5-month lead time before November seems like a lot. Talk about the “permanent campaign”….

Comments are closed.