The Democratic majority in the Michigan Senate approved a measure Thursday that would move the state's presidential primary earlier in the year.
The 20-18 party-line vote to shift the primary from mid-March to late February every four years is favored by Democrats, but may substantially hurt Republicans ahead of what is anticipated to be a heated election to decide the party's nominee in 2024.
"This bill uplifts the voice and vote of Michigan Democrats and Michigan Republicans, and gives every Michigander an early, deserving chance to choose the next president of the United States," said state Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, the lead sponsor of the bill.
Right now, the state's presidential primary is set for the second Tuesday in March every four years. The bill would move that to the fourth Tuesday in February. That would make Michigan one of the first states to hold a primary. Supporters point to the national hoopla associated with traditional first voting states Iowa and New Hampshire, arguing the attention brings more focus to local issues and concerns.
But Republicans noted that their national rules are different than those of the Democratic Party. If Michigan moves its primary earlier in 2024, the national GOP would likely penalize Michigan Republicans, explained Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township.
More:Michigan moves one step closer to becoming early primary state for Democrats
More:Michigan Democrats argue case for becoming an early presidential primary state
"If the Michigan primary takes place before March 1 of next year, Republicans would lose about 85% of the Republican delegates to the national convention. We had 72 delegates in 2020, and we'd go down to 13 delegates next year," he said.
"This legislation ... will, I believe, disenfranchise Michigan voters if left how it is."
The argument did not resonate with the Democratic majority, but the GOP may ultimately achieve the outcome they want.
Under Michigan Senate rules, it takes two-thirds of the members to make sure a bill goes into effect as soon as it is signed into law. Without that level of support, the law does not take effect until 90 days after the end of session. Right now, Democrats do not have enough votes to get to that threshold, meaning the bill would likely not take effect until after the prescribed 2024 primary date.
The legislation was prompted by the Democratic Party's decision to revisit its calendar for which states hold presidential primary contests first. Late last year, at the direction of President Joe Biden, the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee adopted a new primary calendar for 2024 that would put South Carolina first, to be followed by Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia and then Michigan, upending the current calendar that begins with Iowa's caucuses and then the New Hampshire primary every presidential year.
However, all of the states, including Michigan, have to enact laws ensuring they can legally hold primaries on the dates preferred by the party - which still has to finalize the new calendar. The Republican Party, meanwhile, has said it would keep to the current calendar, raising questions about how this will work out between the parties come next year.
While in the future moving the presidential primary may help the state, it's unclear how it would benefit Democrats in 2024. Biden has not officially said he's running for reelection, but many expect him to do so. If that's the case, it's unlikely a sitting president would face substantial opposition from his own party.
But the GOP presidential primary is expected to be a raucous affair. Former President Donald Trump already indicated he's running, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and a slew of others are expected to weigh their own bids.
If Michigan is actually penalized by the RNC for shifting its primary, that would mean the state's votes during the contest would have far less impact at the GOP's nominating convention.
The bill must still pass the House and be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to become law.
Free Press staff writer and Washington correspondent Todd Spangler contributed to this report.
Contact Dave Boucher: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michigan Senate OKs earlier presidential primary angering state GOP
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