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Michigan Democrats: Let’s move up presidential primary. GOP: Not so fast

Joe Tate talking into microphone. people surrounding him
Michigan House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, speaks about the first bills Democrats filed this week at a Thursday press conference at the Heritage Hall in Lansing. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (right) and Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (middle), D-Grand Rapids, watched as Tate addressed the crowd. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Michigan Democrats face a tight deadline to move up the state’s presidential primary date
  • Supporters argue voting early would increase state’s clout, but Republicans say they could see reduced delegates at national convention
  • Senate Republicans, who voted for it in lame duck session, may not be on board

LANSING — Michigan Democrats are fast-tracking a bill to move up the presidential primary date to late February, a move that may require support from Republicans.

The Democratic proposal — sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield — would allow Michigan to hold the next presidential primary on Feb. 27, 2024, up from March 12.

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That would make Michigan one of the first five states to hold the presidential primary, which supporters say could boost the state’s economy and elevate the state’s political clout.

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Republicans worry doing so may violate rules of the Republican National Committee, which prohibits most states from holding presidential primaries before March 1. Violations could reduce the number of Michigan GOP delegates to the 2024 Republican National Convention, said Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township.

“I’m not really understanding why this is such a rush,” Nesbitt told Bridge Michigan. “I imagine that the likelihood is that we’ll have significantly fewer delegates at the national convention and Michigan wouldn’t be fully represented at” the convention.

In fact, Democrats say they face a tight deadline, and need help from at least a few Republicans for their proposal to take immediate effect. It’s one of several issues that may test bipartisanship as Democrats this month took control of the Legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Under a resolution adopted by a committee of the Democratic National Committee, Michigan Democrats must certify by Feb. 1 “any such necessary statutory or regulatory changes have been made” at the state level to move up the presidential primary date, The Detroit News reported.

“We have to talk with the (Democratic) Party and figure out: Is this bill moot if we don't move it soon enough?” Moss told Bridge.

Even if the Democrats approve the legislation by then, they would need Republican votes to make sure the bill takes effect before Feb. 27, 2024.

Under the state Constitution, the bill won’t take effect until 90 days after the legislative session ends — unless two-thirds of each legislative chamber vote to give it immediate effect. The Legislature traditionally adjourns in December.

Democrats, who have a slim majority in the Legislature, need at least six Republicans in the state Senate to vote with them to grant immediate effect, whereas House leaders could give immediate effect by adopting the measure on a voice vote and not counting every single vote, The News reported.

Moss’ proposal comes after a Democratic National Committee panel voted in December to move up Michigan’s primary. A final decision is expected next month.

The DNC decided to shuffle the presidential primaries after Iowa — traditionally the first to hold presidential primaries in the nation — drew criticism for its lack of diversity and delays in caucus results.

Michigan Democratic delegates have long sought an earlier primary, but the push intensified this year. President Joe Biden also wrote a letter to advocate for the change.

The idea gained bipartisan support last year from the state Senate, which voted 34-1 in November to approve a similar Republican-backed bill to move the presidential primary to Feb. 13. It failed because the House never approved it.

Nesbitt was among the Senate Republicans who supported the measure, but he said they only did so in an effort to gain leverage with Democrats on other issues.

“There (was) a number of stuff that we wanted to get done, whether it was tax cuts or whether it was finding other relief for seniors or working families,” Nesbitt said, indicating that Republicans may be less inclined to support the measure now.

On Thursday, Senate Democrats introduced Moss’ bill, skipping the committee process to bring the legislation directly to the floor.

“This is an opportunity for both Democrats and Republicans to come together and say, ‘Our electorate has a lot to offer,’” he said.

House Democrats have not introduced a bill mirroring the Senate proposal. But House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, told Bridge on Thursday he thinks the House will support Moss’ bill.

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The Republican National Committee already set its calendar last spring to allow Iowa and New Hampshire to hold presidential primaries first. 

Meghan Reckling, former chair of the Livingston County Republican Party, tweeted Thursday moving Michigan up would result in penalties from the RNC, which would reduce the state’s delegates from 55 to nine at the Republican National Convention in 2024.

In 2007, the Democratic National Committee’s rules panel voted to strip Michigan of all its 156 delegates to the national convention after Michigan Democrats scheduled the presidential primary date for Jan. 15. The DNC later reinstated the delegates but allowed them each half of a vote

Jonathan Oosting contributed reporting.

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