Future presidential primaries in June?
It’s possible that the Colorado legislature will re-establish the presidential primary that lasted for three elections (1992, 1996, 2000) but it won’t be in the form that the House State Affairs Committee approved on Monday.
House Bill 1454 escaped committee on a party-line vote, with the Democratic majority on top. Presuming passage by the Appropriations Committee Thursday morning, it is likely to be debated on the House floor Thursday afternoon.
In its current form, the bill would establish a presidential primary in March and make it somewhat easier for the unaffiliated to participate.
But insiders are speculating that Republicans will try to amend it by combining the presidential primary with the regular Colorado primary, which this year is scheduled for June 28 (the fourth Tuesday).
The combined primary would be held on the first Tuesday in June, at the very end of the presidential primary season, starting in 2020. That is when California votes, along with New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota.
In days gone by, states thought they had more influence if their primaries were held earlier in the cycle. But in this strange year the late primaries are at least as important.
Republicans will try to get their amendment passed on the House floor, but they will obviously need help from at least a few of the majority Democrats. If they don’t get it, they will attach the amendments in the Senate, where the GOP rules, and send it back to the House for concurrence. If the House refuses to bend, the bill is almost certain to die.
Republicans offered the combined primary amendment at the end of the three-hour State Affairs meeting Monday, but it — along with several other amendments — was defeated on a party-line vote.
Combining the primaries makes economic sense, because the separate presidential primary is expected to cost taxpayers from $5 to $7 million. It was the cost of the previous primary that caused the legislature to eliminate it in 2003, when the economy was down and the budget was under pressure. It was also obvious that President George W. Bush wasn’t going to have a primary challenge the next year, which meant that sending ballots to Republicans would have been a waste of time and money.
Adding the presidential primary to the regular primary, when other statewide and legislative candidates are selected for the November ballot, will add little additional cost — a factor that might persuade some Democrats to accept the GOP amendment.
The legislature is under heavy pressure to revive the presidential primary in some form, because if it doesn’t, a well-financed group called Let Colorado Vote will try to put its own version on the November ballot.
In fact, if it doesn’t like the version passed by the legislature, it may proceed anyway. The group has five possible ballot initiatives making their way through the title-board and appeals process, and hasn’t yet decided which one to go with.
Let Colorado Vote sounds like something ordinary progressives might push, but in fact it is being funded by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Concern, a group of top business executives in the state.
Legislators from both parties don’t like the proposal common to all versions of the initiative that would require the secretary of state to send presidential primary ballots for both parties to all unaffiliated voters.
They’d be allowed to vote in only one primary but lawmakers expect that many voters would get confused and send back their choices for both parties. What’s more, there is no way of ascertaining who voted in which primary even if they do it right.
H.B. 1454 is only slightly more restrictive. It would create a new category of voter known as a “temporary affiliated elector.” The unaffiliated would earn this status by declaring an intent to affiliate with any major or minor party no sooner than 45 days before any state or presidential primary. The temporary affiliation ends 30 days after the primary — unless he chooses to commit permanently to the party.
That’s a little too loose for most Republicans and they may try to amend that provision in the bill somewhere along the way.
Under current law unaffiliated voters can go to a polling place right up to 7 p.m. and commit to one party or another in a primary. Or they can change their affiliation on-line and be mailed a ballot, so long as they do this at least eight days in advance — preferably earlier, considering the vagaries of the postal service.
By the way, H.B. 1454 would require the state to send presidential primary ballots to all voters — even if the incumbent president had no opposition. Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who otherwise backs the bill, objected to this needless expense in committee testimony Monday.
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes once a week for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com.