MI Presidential Primary now February 27, 2024; lawmakers argue if it helps or hurts voters

The new presidential primary is approved for February 27, 2024.
Election file
Lansing Capital
Posted at 5:49 PM, Feb 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-02 01:56:59-05

Democratic state lawmakers are positioning Michigan to play a bigger role in deciding who will be our next president.

But Republicans say the majority's latest move is actually doing the opposite, arguing it could disenfranchise voters.

And the center of the debate is a date change.

On Tuesday, SB 13 passed the state house and was signed into law on Wednesday by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Michigan State House

The bill moves Michigan's presidential primary date from the second Tuesday in March, to the fourth Tuesday in February starting in 2024. In 2020, Michigan's primary was March 10; in 2024, it's slated for February 27th.

In a statement, Governor Whitmer says "as a diverse, dynamic, optimistic state where we are building the future, Michigan is an ideal place to hold an early presidential primary."


And in a rare agreement, Democrats and Republicans both say there are benefits to an earlier primary date.

State Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-80, Kent County), says "the nation's eyes would be upon us, the media, the candidates would be out here, meeting our leaders, meeting our people, going door to door, visiting county fairs, and really getting to know us."

State Rep. Phil Skaggs

And his GOP counterpart State Rep. Bryan Posthumus (R-90, Kent County), adds "there's absolutely some benefits to it. It will put a spotlight on the state of Michigan."

But, Rep. Posthumus believes the pros don't outweigh the cons.

State Rep. Bryan Posthumus

Republican National Committee rules says most state primaries can't happen before March 1st, and that includes Michigan.

RULE NO. 16(c)(1)
"No primary, caucus, convention, or other process to elect, select, allocate, or bind delegates to the national convention shall occur prior to March 1 or after the second Saturday in June in the year in which a national convention is held. Except Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada may conduct their processes no earlier than one month before the next earliest state in the year in which a national convention is held and shall not be subject to the provisions of paragraph (c)(2) of this rule."

Rep. Posthumus says Michigan has 50+ delegates to the national convention, and if the primary is held before March 1st, they will be penalized. The RNC rules slash their delegate total to nine.

Rule NO 17(a)
"If any state or state Republican Party violates Rule No. 16(c)(1) of these rules, the number of delegates to the national convention shall be reduced for those states with thirty (30) or more total delegates to nine (9) plus the members of the Republican National Committee from that state..."

Bill signed to move up Michigan's 2024 primary election

Rep. Posthumus says all hope is not lost. Even after violating the RNC rule, the Michigan delegation can fight to seat all of their delegates at the Republican National Convention, which will take place July 15-18, 2024 in Milwaukee.

But July is a far cry from February, and Rep. Posthumus argues this entire process goes against the Democratic argument that it helps voters. Instead, he says it's hurting them.

"If we're penalized and we only have 9 delegates, if we lose 85% of our delegates, are we really having the the ability to have our voices heard that we should have?"

The red tape created by the RNC is not the only uncertainty in play here.

According to the Michigan State Constitution, laws do not go into effect until 90 days after the close of session.

Michigan State Capitol

In order for a law to be official sooner, lawmakers must approve the legislation with an "immediate effect" tag.

In order to pass a bill with immediate effect, a two-thirds majority is needed in both the state house and the state senate.

With SB 13, this only happened in the state house. So, for the new primary date law to take effect in time, the legislature must adjourn by Wednesday, November 29th, 2023.

In 2022, the state legislature adjourned on December 28th.

In order for the legislature to adjourn, they must approve a resolution stating the date of adjournment. With the Democrats in control in Lansing, there is little doubt that the legislature can make that happen.

Rep. Posthumus says there's little doubt in his mind either.

"The way I'm viewing it, is the date for the primaries is February 27, and until I hear otherwise, that's what it's going to be."

Speaking with the Kent, Kalamazoo, and Ottawa County Clerks, they're less concerned about the date change and more concerned about having enough resources— especially as they enact new changes created by Proposal 2, which passed in November.

Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck says the addition of nine days of early voting is what will require the most attention moving forward.

Ottawa Co Clerk Justin Roebuck

"To conduct nine days of early voting in eight-hour days prior to every election, that will require a great deal of additional manpower."

In Kalamazoo, County Clerk Meredith Place echoes that sentiment.

Kalamazoo Co Clerk Meredith Place

"What I do see as the biggest hurdle that we're going to have to get across, is the fact that we're all doing more with less. We're going to need the state to buckle down and recognize that election administrators across the state need help in ways of more staff and more resources."

All three clerks say that even with the uncertainty, they will be ready come 2024.

According to Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus-Lyons, the important piece is that Michigan stays relevant on a national scale.

Kent Co Clerk Lisa Posthumus-Lyons

"We're going to be trained and we're going to make sure that Michigan's voters, that Kent County's voters, get an accurate and a secure and a transparent election," she says.

Tuesday marked deadline set by the Democratic National Committee to make any official legislative changes to state election law.

In December, therule-making arm of the DNC voted on a new schedule for the 2024 primary.

It starts with South Carolina on February 3rd, then Nevada and New Hampshire on the 6th, Georgia on the 13th, and then Michigan on the 27th.

The move marks a dramatic shift from the previous calendar, after Iowa held the "First-in-the-Nation" title since 1972.

The full DNC is expected to approve the slate this month.