Michigan moves to set 2016 presidential primary date

David Eggert
Associated Press

Lansing — Majority Republicans in the Michigan Legislature are changing course and appear poised to settle on a March 8, 2016, presidential primary, a week earlier than the state party’s initial preference.

The House voted 72-38 on Wednesday to approve a bill that would establish a March 8 election. The Senate last week had unanimously OK’d a March 15 election, but appears likely to concur with the House change as early as Thursday.

House Elections Committee Chairwoman Lisa Posthumus Lyons said she was concerned that a March 15 date might conflict with when rural residents appeal their property tax assessments with local review boards. Officials in some smaller townships had expressed logistical concerns.

“We have a system that I think we should hold in very high regard where our taxpayers can petition the government and talk about their property tax liability, and we shouldn’t take that lightly,” Lyons, R-Alto, told reporters.

The March 15 date was endorsed by the state Republican Party in September because it is the first date under Republican National Committee rules that a winner-take-all primary can be held. But the rules approved five months ago also acknowledged the Legislature could choose a different date.

The presidential primary currently is scheduled for Feb. 23. In 2012 the state held an early primary in violation of RNC rules. If the date is not changed to March 1 or later, Michigan could lose all but 12 of about 60 Republican delegates this time around.

“We’re happy that the Legislature decided to move forward with these bills,” state GOP spokesman Darren Littell said. “The state committee’s No. 1 priority was to be in compliance with the RNC rules so we weren’t in violation as in previous years and we had all of our delegates this year.”

New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada are scheduled to host the first four contests in February 2016.

In a March 8 primary, three delegates would be awarded to the Republican winner of each of 14 congressional districts. The remaining delegates would be split proportionally to match the statewide vote, though a candidate without at least 15 percent of the vote would be given no at-large delegates.

Lyons said she is prepared to introduce a bill that would set a March 1 primary if circumstances change depending on what other states decide.

“I do think it was important to get this done now because as we go further along into the cycle this is going to get mired in individual candidate strategy and what’s in their best interest as opposed to what’s in Michigan’s best interest,” she said.

Democrats have not decided whether to participate in a primary or instead hold caucuses.

A related bill approved 74-36 by the House would specify that Michigan’s regularly scheduled February election would instead occur on March 8 in presidential years, to avoid having two elections within a span of weeks.

A presidential primary would cost about $10 million, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Associated Press Staff Writer Alisha Green contributed.