STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 5, 2012…..Although it appears almost certain that Massachusetts voters will be at the polls selecting party nominees for Senate, Congress, and state legislative seats, Gov. Deval Patrick plans to spend Sept. 6 in North Carolina, where President Barack Obama is expected to accept the Democratic Party nomination for a second term.
Lawmakers have shown little interest in Patrick's idea of moving the state's primary date for a second time to accommodate Bay State Democrats who plan to attend the Democratic National Convention this summer. If the date isn't changed, those party activists will be forced to choose between in-state campaigning for their own seats or for colleagues in tight races and traveling to North Carolina to join their national party mates and watch the president deliver a nomination speech.
"On that day, I expect to be in North Carolina and vote absentee if that doesn't change," Patrick told the News Service in a recent interview at Democratic Party headquarters in downtown Boston.
Patrick appears to have given up on changing the date of the state primary, although he said in December that he had hoped to do so to avoid a conflict with an unusually late Democratic National Convention, scheduled to run from Sept. 2 to Sept. 6 in Charlotte.
"It's kind of up to the Legislature at this point," he told the News Service.
Patrick in November called to change the primary date to avoid a conflict for the Democratic activists who plan to attend the convention.
"Yes, we should change that date," Patrick said at the time. "We should certainly change that date. It's amazing nobody caught it. We didn't catch it, and I think I'm right, the secretary of state observed this is an unusually late Democratic National Convention, but it ought to be changed and I think it will be."
Patrick and the Legislature in November changed the primary date from Sept. 18 to Sept. 6 to avoid a conflict with Rosh Hashanah and comply with federal laws that require at least 45 days between the primary and the general election, scheduled for Nov. 6, so that absentee and military ballots can be mailed in time. At the time, no one mentioned that Obama's nomination speech was marked for Sept. 6.
Sen. Barry Finegold, co-chair of the Committee on Election Laws, said Monday that the Patrick administration never reached out to him on potential date changes, and he said that unless he receives a sudden groundswell of interest, the prospect of changing the date appears remote.
"I'm not getting a lot of calls, and I'm not getting a big push to change the date, so unless that changes, I don't see it changing," he said, adding that an anticipated election law reform package will not include a primary date change proposal.
Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston), Finegold's co-chair, said lawmakers could still propose changing the date, but emphasized that the later it gets in this election year, the less likely it becomes. He noted that nomination papers have already gone out to candidates for office listing the Sept. 6 primary date.
Secretary of State William Galvin, the state's top elections officer, has said he's skeptical of any effort to change the primary date again, noting that moving it later could create headaches - and potentially breaches of federal law - if recounts or substitute candidates are required.
"I know this is making some people going to the Democratic National Convention unhappy," the five-term Democrat said in January. "But, I mean, let's be honest. There's very little suspense at least at this point about the Democratic National Convention and the last night tends to be a celebratory night."
An earlier primary, he said, would also be fraught with peril. In addition to falling during a popular vacation month, an August primary could strain school buildings that often aren't open over the summer but are typically used as local polling locations.
It would also serve little purpose, Galvin said, to move the date earlier than Sept. 6 because ballots could not be printed regardless until the Democratic Party officially has a nominee for president.