MASON, Mich. (AP) – Michigan’s bid to have an early role in picking 2008 presidential candidates is in jeopardy after a judge ruled yesterday that part of a state law establishing a Jan. 15 primary is unconstitutional.
The ruling effectively cancels the primary date unless there is a successful appeal or state law is changed to allow the vote to go forward. The primary date had been pushed up by state Republicans and Democrats to make Michigan more relevant to the selection of presidential candidates.
Michigan’s move was under fire even before Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette ruled unconstitutional a provision in the law to give the Democratic and Republican parties exclusive access to lists of who voted in their party’s primary.
The national Republican and Democratic parties had threatened to slap the state parties with sanctions for violating party rules if Michigan followed through on the primary plan. Several Democratic candidates withdrew from the Michigan primary, leaving Hillary Rodham Clinton as the only top-tier candidate left on the ballot.
Michigan’s vote date is watched closely by other states with early presidential primaries and caucuses.
State officials and lawmakers had not decided on their next move as of yesterday afternoon. It is possible the state could appeal the ruling or have lawmakers pass a different version of the law that resolves the issues from yesterday’s ruling. A two-thirds majority of lawmakers supporting the existing law might also do the trick.
The state’s political leaders might also stand pat, leaving political parties to hold caucuses or nominating conventions instead. Primaries would have far broader participation.
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis said yesterday he still plans on a Jan. 15 primary.
“Judge Collette’s ruling made it clear that there is no problem with holding a presidential primary in early January, and that is encouraging,” Anuzis said in a statement. “This is just a ‘hiccup’ in the process …”
The Jan. 15 primary has brought Michigan more attention from GOP presidential candidates, which pleases state Republicans. But some Michigan Democrats want to dump it in favor of caucuses for a variety of reasons.
The Michigan Democratic Party’s executive committee met yesterday night in Lansing, but pulled from the agenda a scheduled vote to make the Jan. 15 primary date official. Party leaders needed time to review the ruling and their options, state party chairman Mark Brewer said.
After the meeting, Brewer said the ruling and options remained under review. Headed into the meeting, some Democrats were hoping to explore options aimed at appealing the judge’s decision and asking the Legislature to address needed changes in the law perhaps as early as today.
One possible Democratic fallback position is a Feb. 9 presidential caucus to decide delegates to the Democratic National Convention. That was the plan before the January primary law was passed and remains the official plan recorded with the Democratic National Committee.
The law establishing Michigan’s Jan. 15 primary date was challenged in court by groups who said the major political parties should not get exclusive access to lists of which voters ask for Republican ballots and which take Democratic ones.
Collette said that amounts to public money being used for private purposes. He also said it seemed inappropriate that third-party political rivals would not have equal access to the same information.
East Lansing political consultant Mark Grebner, one of the parties that sued the state, said his intent is not to stop the primary.
“If someone can figure out a way to save it, that’s fine with us,” Grebner said.