Michigan Senate passes bill moving up 2024 presidential primary to Feb. 27 over GOP outcry

This wouldn’t be the first time the Legislature acted to change the state’s primary date

By: - January 26, 2023 3:39 pm

Former Vice President Joe Biden in Detroit before the presidential primary, March 9, 2020 | Ken Coleman

Democrats are moving forward quickly on a measure that would move up the 2024 presidential primary, with Republicans claiming it would hurt voters.

Senate Bill 13 would establish Feb. 27, 2024, as the next primary date — changing the state’s presidential primary date to the fourth Tuesday in February rather than the second Tuesday in March.

It passed along party lines in the Senate with a 20-18 vote Thursday, but still needs a vote from the House to gain full passage, as well as a vote for immediate effect in order to take effect in time for the 2024 primary.

Moving Michigan’s primary date earlier has long been a priority for Democratic leaders and state officials, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The Detroit Regional Chamber has also supported the move for economic reasons. The change would make Michigan the fifth in line among other states.

Whitmer, Brinks, Tate send letter to DNC asking for February 2024 presidential primary

A Democratic National Committee (DNC) panel voted in December for the date switch. The proposal still needs adoption by the full DNC in February to officially go into effect.

“Colleagues, let’s put Michigan first,” state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said Thursday before the chamber’s vote on the measure. “… I hope we do something today that puts the interests of our state and our people front and center.”

Irwin and his Democratic colleagues have argued that Michigan is more diverse and representative of the country than other states like Iowa that have traditionally gone first. Being among the first states to vote means being a big focus for presidential candidates, who will prioritize the state for visits, events, campaigning and addressing state-specific issues.

“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).

“Our electorate has a lot to offer. Michigan is important and it is way more reflective of the mix of urban suburban and rural residents around the country, and has a more complex economy than other traditional early states,” Moss continued.

Republican lawmakers have pushed back against this notion, claiming that pushing the date forward would disenfranchise GOP voters and not present any benefit to the state.

“It’s just chasing after the wind. There’s no real value to it. It’s an illusion,” said state Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) on Thursday after a long-winded metaphor about state fairs, cotton candy and snow cones. He called the push for an earlier primary date a “fool’s errand.”

This wouldn’t be the first time that the Legislature adopted legislation changing the presidential primary date.

In 2007, both parties in Michigan pushed for a date change for the 2008 statewide presidential primary. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers had agreed that Michigan’s primary date was “too late … to give Michigan voters enough input on the presidential nominating process,” adopting Senate Bill 624 to push the 2008 date to Jan. 29 and to the first, rather than the fourth, Tuesday in February in each subsequent cycle. That bill was signed into law as Public Act 52 of 2007.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won Michigan’s 2008 presidential primary after the Legislature moved the date up. | Andrew Roth

However, both Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland) criticized the Democrats for their legislation this year at a press conference Wednesday before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State address.

“Isn’t it important that Michigan has as great of a voice on presidential primaries as possible on the Republican side, and not make us irrelevant by cutting out 86% of our delegates?” Nesbitt said.

Republicans say that, unlike the DNC, the Republican National Committee (RNC) rules cannot be changed within two years of the next convention. This would mean that they would not be able to select their delegates before the new date of Feb. 27, 2024, resulting in the loss of most of Michigan’s national GOP delegates. Nesbitt and others have asked that the change start in 2028 rather than 2024 for this reason.

But there are other ways Republicans could select delegates before Feb. 27, 2024, without a state primary — as they have done for several past elections.

The Michigan Republican Party could hold a caucus or state convention earlier, rather than holding a statewide primary. The RNC could then change the rules for the next cycle, without delegate numbers being sacrificed for either primary. There is no requirement that Michigan Republicans must use the primary mechanism in order to comply with RNC rules to select delegates.

Opting for a caucus rather than a state primary would, however, cost money for the Michigan GOP, while the state would pick up the tab for a primary. That would come as the party is facing financial shortfalls after a year of less-than-optimal fundraising.

Michigan Republican Party headquarters, Lansing | Susan J. Demas

But GOP lawmakers continue to claim that they oppose the date change because there is no way out of losing 85% of Michigan’s national Republican delegates, despite other options available.

“This is the very definition of disenfranchisement,” state Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) said on Thursday prior to the vote, calling the measure a Democratic “scheme” and “blatant political ploy.”

Runestad claimed, without evidence, that Democrats are seeking an earlier primary date in order to deny President Joe Biden a second term and replace him with Whitmer. This is despite Biden supporting the new primary calendar, and Whitmer saying she has no plans to run in 2024.

“This blatant political ploy is certainly not to rise Michigan’s profile nationally, as they would have you believe,” Runestad said, calling SB 13 the “Big Gretch 2024 bill.”

“No, it’s about rising the political profile of certain individuals in this very room, revealing true priorities of politics and mission and clout, benefiting many of the people here — but especially in the room across the street in the Romney building,” he continued, referring to Whitmer’s office.


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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.