A Real Early Primary? [Update: 2024 Amendment Introduced]

[Update: it would appear that, in response to this article, an amendment has been placed with the bill changing the effective date to January 1, 2024. Excellent. Thank you. I’m keeping this article up until we see how the vote goes tomorrow, but if the amendment passes, the bill is good.]

Senate President Pro Tempore Dave McBride is going to try to pull a fast one tomorrow that will, he thinks, endear him to progressives and liberals while at the same time short-circuiting the primary challenge he and others in the General Assembly may face.

House Bill 41 calls for moving the primary election from September to April. Delaware has the latest primary election in the country, and for years, people have been trying to move it earlier in the calendar. The reasons for this are clear: a mid September primary gives the winners of the primary little time to turn around and get ready for the general election in November. So reformers and progressives have been lobbying for this change for years.

However, there are legitimate concerns about moving the primary to earlier in the calendar, especially to a date in the middle of the General Assembly session. I have heard from several staffers and officials themselves that an April primary will make legislating that much more difficult, and I do not discount those concerns.

The fairest way of changing the primary date is to pass the bill but have it take effect in 2022 or 2024 to allow time for legislators to plan the legislative session around it, and to adjust the way they do business.

But after reviewing the bill today after it was passed out of Committee this afternoon, I noticed something. There is no language in the bill that says this bill will take effect for the 2022 elections, and I could have sworn that earlier versions of the bill did. Rather, Section 5 of the bill says that the legislation takes effect on January 1, 2020. So guess what that means?!?

It means the primary election for all state offices up for election this year, 2020, will be held on April 28, 2020. A little more than three months away. The new filing deadline for the primary will be February 25, 2020, a little more than a month away.

Needless to say this is incredibly unfair and it smacks of an incumbent changing the rules of the election in the election year to protect himself and other incumbents and to disadvantage their opposition. It is something Vladimir Putin in Russia has done, and has done today in fact.

Therefore, a yes vote on an unamended House Bill 41 is a betrayal of all Delaware voters and is an endorsement of a corrupt power grab. If you want to pass the bill, amend it so that it takes effect for the 2022 election.

Nice try, Dave.

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

8 comments on “A Real Early Primary? [Update: 2024 Amendment Introduced]

  1. There is no reason an earlier primary should be backed by progressives, as a short season to a general election makes no difference in a state as polarized as ours — the Democratic primary is the general upstate, the Republican one downstate.

    Furthermore, while Delaware may be last, it’s not by much. New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island also hold primaries in September. Another 13 hold primaries in August, not significantly different in terms of ability to campaign before the general.

    It’s a made-up issue and, given the extended time legislators spend half-days in Dover — Maryland, a state with 6 times our population and nearly 10 times our annual budget, manages to get its business done in just four months — a problem no matter how much earlier it’s moved, unless it’s set in August, in which case why bother?

  2. cassandram

    Wilmington got told that it was not possible for us to hold Special elections to replace City Councilpeople mid term because it would cost too much. But somehow we don’t mind spending money for 4 elections this cycle. Just not one for Wilmington.

    In Presidential years, Maryland’s primaries happen on the same day as the Presidential primary (same day as ours). In off year, primaries are in late June. And Maryland has a 90 day legislative session.

    If Delaware’s primaries were moved to coincide with the Presidential, you’d take advantage of the Presidential year turnout for ALL elections and you aren’t asking voters to come out for 4 elections that year. There would be at least one election cycle we could eliminate.

    While there are incumbent legislators who object to the timing (somehow they won’t have time to campaign, as if shifting the entire cycle wasn’t possible), I increasingly think that the real objection is to the potential of folding in school board elections to an earlier, broader primary. The school ed folk lose some of their control over this part of the process and they’d have to up their game for board members.

    I’m for moving it. That said, any change really should be for the next election cycle or the one after. You do have to give everyone (and I really doubt the DOE could move fast enough to pull off a Presidential election this spring) time to plan for a different campaign and voting cycle.

    • Thanks. At least this explains the progressive reasoning behind changing it — it would increase turnout. I am still of the opinion that moving it to spring would protect incumbents in the General Assembly, but I can see why YMMV.

      • cassandram

        I genuinely don’t see how this helps an incumbent. If you are watching campaigns, challenger campaigns (at least the better of them) start the summer a whole year before election day. I have heard one incumbent tell me that a campaign that starts in the summer right after session cuts into *2* summers for them. This cycle literally asks for more work from incumbents, and what is wrong with that?

        • A longer campaign entails spending more money, which usually favors incumbents. But I think you’re right in that campaigns are moving this way already whether the date changes or not.

          • Maybe they spend more money. At this point, once the primary is over, almost all of the electronic media is bought. All that’s left is mail pieces to be sent out. Also, campaigns have another fundraising cycle, but only 2 months to raise it. I have a sliver of hope that a 7 month long general will result in more sanity for the campaigns.

  3. cassandram

    Letting this start for the 2024 cycle makes much better sense to me.

    Now we get to listen to all of the people who will insist that campaigns start on January 1 of the election year.

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