DNC votes to approve new early presidential primary calendar, uncertainties remain

Photo of the White House in Washington, D.C.

The Democratic National Committee approved a new set of early presidential primary states on February 4. The plan sets South Carolina as the first primary state on February 3, 2024, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on February 6, Georgia on February 13, and Michigan on February 27. In 2020, the early primary states were Iowa on February 3, New Hampshire on February 11, Nevada on February 22, and South Carolina on February 29.

Though the new plan has received final approval from the DNC, some uncertainties remain. In many states, presidential primary dates are not only governed by political parties but also by state law and state election regulators. 

Additionally, the Republican National Committee voted to approve its presidential primary calendar in April 2022, re-establishing the early line-up of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, in that order. Both parties penalize noncompliance with early primary line-ups by reducing the number of delegates a state has at the national convention, thereby limiting that state’s influence on the presidential nominating process.

Here’s where things stand in each state slated for a presidential primary by either the Democratic or Republican National Committees.

Iowa law requires presidential nominating caucuses to be held at least eight days before any other state’s primary. However, the law does not outline consequences for violation, and Iowa has previously held caucuses fewer than eight days before another primary. State parties select caucus dates in Iowa, and the state Democratic Party has expressed opposition to moving their caucus out of the early window. 

South Carolina presidential primaries are run and funded by the state government, but state parties select the date their primaries take place. This means that Democrats don’t need approval from the Republican trifecta state government to move the presidential primary earlier in the calendar, and a date change on the Democratic side would not affect the Republican primary date.

New Hampshire officials have expressed opposition to its new place in the Democratic primary line-up. Citing state law, which requires New Hampshire to hold the first presidential primary (excluding caucuses), New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan (R) said he would ensure the state holds its primary first. This would violate DNC rules and result in fewer delegates at the national convention. However, consequences for violating New Hampshire’s primary law are unclear, so it may be possible for state parties to run and fund their own primary contests on a separate date.

Nevada passed a bill in 2021 changing its nominating process from a convention to a primary. The bill also requires the primary to take place on the first Tuesday in February, bringing it in line with the DNC’s proposed calendar. Depending on when Iowa and New Hampshire schedule their primaries, this calendar can work with the RNC’s schedule. It is also possible that the Republican state party could opt out of the state-funded primary election and hold a caucus on a date of their choosing instead.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), who sets primary dates in the state, said he did not intend to change Georgia’s primary date to comply with the DNC calendar. He said, “This type of move would need to be equitable, take place on the same day, and ensure that no one loses delegates,” and expressed openness to an early Georgia primary in 2028. 

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) recently signed a bill moving the state’s presidential primary to the date set by the DNC. But, newly passed state laws don’t take effect until 90 days after a legislative session ends. For the law to take effect in time for the 2024 primaries, the state legislature would have to adjourn early. Republicans would not be permitted to hold a primary on a separate date, though they could hold a party-sponsored caucus or convention on a separate date.

Georgia and New Hampshire, the only two states in the DNC’s new early primary line-up that haven’t yet demonstrated they can move their primaries, have until June 2023 to show the DNC they can change their primary dates and receive an early primary waiver.