1. What are Florida and Michigan’s 2008 presidential primary dates and how and when were those dates finalized?
On May 21, Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation into law designating Jan. 29 as the state’s presidential primary date. The primary had been previously scheduled for March.
In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm signed legislation into law Sept. 4 establishing Jan. 15 as the state’s presidential primary date. But, lower courts in Michigan ruled that the primary process was unconstitutional because Michigan political parties would obtain information regarding voters’ political affiliation through the primary process and that information would not be made public. Voters do not register by party in Michigan. But the State Supreme Court decided Nov. 21 to overturn those rulings and allow the Jan. 15 date to stand.
2. Why did these states and others schedule earlier delegate selection contests?
There is no heir-apparent for either party’s nomination and states are eager to exert influence over the nominating process. In past elections, the opportunities provided by early contests for candidates to gain momentum has resulted in more attention being paid to those states. Other candidates have stumbled in early contests and had to drop out. By the time other states held their primaries, the nominee was already apparent.
The desire to play a role in the nominating process has been so strong that more than 20 states have scheduled one or more party contests on Feb. 5, the earliest date permitted by both parties on which states may hold a contest without penalty.
3. What rules have Florida and Michigan broken by setting these primary dates?
The dates chosen by Florida and Michigan violate both national party rules because they fall before Feb. 5.
Democratic National Committee (DNC) rules stipulate that all but a select handful of states (Iowa- Jan.3 caucus, New Hampshire -Jan. 8 primary, Nevada- Jan. 19 caucus and South Carolina- Jan. 26 primary) are permitted to hold nominating contests earlier than Feb. 5, 2008.
Republican National Committee (RNC) rules state that all states holding binding delegate selection contests prior to Feb. 5 will be penalized, including New Hampshire and South Carolina. Wyoming Republicans also broke RNC rules by scheduling caucuses Jan. 5. The RNC has said it will not penalize Iowa Republicans for holding caucuses Jan. 3 or Nevada Republicans for holding caucuses Jan. 19 because they deem those to be non-binding contests.
New Hampshire traditionally holds the first-in-the-nation primary and Iowa traditionally holds the first caucus in the nation.
4. What penalties do violators face for scheduling primaries before Feb. 5?
Democrats in Florida originally faced the loss of half of their delegates to the party’s 2008 national convention in Denver and candidates who campaigned in the state would then be forced to forfeit any delegates received by Florida. But in late August, the DNC took a harder line against Florida, and threatened to strip them of all 210 delegates if the party did not change their delegate selection plan within 30 days. Florida Democrats did not back down and the DNC is now proceeding as if Florida will have no delegates attending the convention.
Just more than a week after Michigan’s primary was finalized, the rule-making body of the DNC recommended Dec. 1 that like Florida Democrats, Michigan Democrats should be stripped of all 156 delegates. The DNC said penalties would take effect in 30 days if Michigan Democrats chose not to alter their delegate selection plan.
The previous penalties laid out by the DNC for presidential candidates who campaign in these states are now moot since they have no delegates, the DNC confirmed Wednesday. But presidential candidates signed an earlier “four-state” pledge not to campaign in states that violate the DNC scheduling rules. The pledge was offered by the four states permitted by the DNC to hold earlier Democratic nominating contests: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
In addition, several Democratic candidates withdrew their names from Michigan’s primary ballot, including: Illinois Sen. Barack Obama; former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice presidential nominee; Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden; and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
Republicans who violate RNC scheduling rules face a loss of half of their delegates, which is 57 of Florida’s 114 total delegates and 30 of Michigan’s 60 delegates.
5. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida and others sued the DNC over the penalties? Was that resolved?
Nelson and fellow Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee L. Hastings were two plaintiffs in a case brought against the DNC and its chairman, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. They argued that the DNC penalties against Florida Democrats were unconstitutional and violated Florida voters’ rights.
But Chief U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida ruled in the DNC’s favor Wednesday, arguing that the national party has the right to set its own rules.
Nelson said he is not planning to appeal the case but will pursue legislation to reform the presidential primary system.
6. What scenarios may occur for Florida and Michigan at next summer’s national conventions?
The possibility remains that full penalties will not be carried out against Florida and Michigan and state parties are likely to appeal to their nominee and committee members to seat their delegates.
At the DNC meeting in early December, Rules and Bylaws committee member Don Fowler of South Carolina, who opposed the sanctions against Michigan Democrats said: “No one at this table believes that the delegate sections for Michigan and Florida will be absent at the convention in Denver.” He continued, “We all understand that after the nominee is selected, manipulation will be taken to somehow place those delegations in the convention in Denver.”
Florida Democrats are preparing for all of their delegates to be recognized, despite the DNC sanctions. They have said that they will appeal their party nominee to recognize all delegates if the penalties are enforced. Florida Republicans are also operating as if all their delegates will be seated but said that if only 57 delegates are seated, they will be bound to all vote for the statewide winner in order to consolidate their delegate influence.
Michigan Democrats had 30 days to change their delegate selection plan, but had indicated they will not alter their plan. Michigan Republicans say they are pressing forward with their full 60 delegate plan and did not offer an alternate plan if half of their delegates were seated when faced with the scenario Wednesday.
The DNC said there is no precedent for the situation caused by Florida and Michigan Democrats and that states in recent years have altered their nominating contests when pressed by the committee to adhere to their scheduling rules.
7. Can anything be done to reduce “front-loading” for future presidential primaries?
A reform of the presidential primary scheduling plan could help avoid future front-loading and many lawmakers, party members, and political observers have offered their solutions to solve primary scheduling problems. Among them:
- The Delaware Plan– States are divided into four regions with the least populous holding the first nominating contests. One election day would be designated for each region.
- Rotating Regional Primaries Plan– Nominating contests would be grouped by regions: East, South, Midwest and West. A lottery would determine which region holds the first contest and that region would go last in the next election year. Iowa and New Hampshire would retain their historical status and the first states to hold nominating contests. This plan is supported by the National Association of Secretaries of State.
A rotating regional plan was introduced in the Senate in July 07 by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. It was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 8 senators from both parties. Democratic Rep. Alcee L. Hastings of Florida introduced a companion bill in the House.
- A plan to divide states into six regions which would each contain six sub-regions. One sub-region from each region would hold a nominating contest on one of six designated election dates. No favored status is given to any states. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida and co-sponsor Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan offered this plan in Senate legislation this year. Michigan Democratic National Committeewoman Debbie Dingell, wife of Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell, and Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saulius “Saul” Anuzis proposed a bi-partisan plan patterned after the Nelson-Levin legislation.