Members of the Democratic National Committee voted over the weekend to reorder their presidential primary calendar. But implementing that plan won't be easy.
Democrats are hoping to shuffle the order of the party’s nominating contests, moving South Carolina up to the first slot with a Feb. 3 primary, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27. (Other states are free to set their own dates after that.)
Moving South Carolina’s date should be relatively painless — the date is set by the state party, per state law. And Nevada’s presidential primary was moved back in 2021, when then-Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, also signed into law a bill setting the state’s presidential primary for the first Tuesday in February.
In other states, though, the path is more complicated.
Changing the Granite State’s primary would require altering state law. Current state law allows the secretary of state to set the primary date, but that date must be seven days or more before any other state’s primary.
New Hampshire Democrats have stressed such a change to state law is virtually impossible in the face of opposition from the GOP-led legislature and the state’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu. Democratic State Party Chairman Ray Buckley wrote in a letter to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee last month that “the New Hampshire Democratic Party cannot dictate to the Republican governor and state legislative leaders what to do.”
If New Hampshire holds a primary out of compliance with DNC rules, the state and any candidate who campaigns there will face steep penalties from the national party, which could be enough to keep any major candidates away and prevent them from even adding their name to the ballot.
The DNC has given New Hampshire a few more months to try to resolve the issue, and New Hampshire Democrats might be able to theoretically run the primary themselves, instead of with official state resources, but few Democratic insiders are optimistic about resolving the impasse.
Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has the power to set the state’s presidential primary, and he recently told the Associated Press that he would support moving up Georgia’s primary, but not until 2028.
Raffensperger suggested the GOP primary would also have to be changed for such a move to be “equitable,” but he noted that Republicans have already solidified their 2024 primary calendar.
Raffensperger is said to be eyeing a gubernatorial run in 2026, when current Republican Gov. Brian Kemp will be term-limited, so the politics of helping Democrats could be tricky, especially since former President Donald Trump has already targeted Raffensperger for refusing to join his effort to overturn the 2020 election.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed a bill into law moving the state’s presidential primary to the fourth Tuesday in February, which would comply with the DNC’s plans, despite GOP opposition.
But it’s not clear if the law will take effect for the 2024 election cycle. That would require the state legislature to adjourn early, per Michigan Public Radio. Democrats now control the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature, so national Democrats expect they will be able to resolve any issues.
Iowa’s demotion from the first slate of nominating contests — the state has long held caucuses instead of primaries — would also likely require a change in state law.
While the state party can set the caucus date, the law also states that the caucus should be held “not later than the fourth Monday in February” and “at least eight days earlier” than other states’ nominating contests. Altering these statutes would be difficult under a GOP-led state government.
“Iowa does not have the luxury of conducting a state-run primary, nor are Iowa Republicans likely to support legislation that would establish one,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Rita Hart. “Our state law requires us to hold precinct caucuses before the last Tuesday in February, and before any other contest.”