Editor’s Note: the following article was written by Scott McMahan and initially published by the Lapeer County Tribune on November 18, 2023

Now that state legislators have adjourned two months early for the year, the Michigan primary election will be held on February 27, 2024. This will make only 30% of the state’s republican delegates determined by the primary voters according to an agreement reached between the Republican National Convention (RNC) and the Michigan State Republican Party (MIGOP). 

To stem a competition between states to move the primaries earlier and earlier, the RNC established a longstanding rule that only New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina can hold their primaries prior to March 1, as those states have done so for decades. The penalty set by the RNC is the stripping of up to 90% of the state’s delegates.

At the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in September before the primary change was finalized, the MIGOP and RNC reached and adopted an agreement that would allow for 16 of the state’s 55 delegates to be determined by the republican primary and the remaining 39 delegates would be determined by a state caucus on March 2.

At the time of publication it was uncertain whether or not the caucus would occur. It is not listed on the migop.org calendar of events. When the Tribune asked representatives of the Lapeer County GOP if they knew there would be a state caucus to determine delegates for the RNC, they indicated they were unaware if a caucus was going to happen.  The Lapeer GOP had not been given details by the state GOP.

However, what is certain, is this important information has not been published adequately enough for republican voters to know their vote in the February primary will only determine, at most, how 30% of the state’s delegates will be cast in the July RNC convention.  In short, republican primary voters have lost 70% of their voting power.  The vast majority of votes will be determined by convention delegates-not the primary voters.

“The primary this year will be nothing more than a beauty contest,” said former State Representative and current Lapeer County Commissioner Gary Howell (R) in a statement to the Tribune.

The moving of the Michigan primary election from the second Tuesday of March to the last Tuesday of February was a move that was spearheaded by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and passed along strictly partisan lines, with every democrat in the house and Senate voting for the move and every republican opposing it. State law determines that any bill that passes without a two-thirds supermajority requires a 90-day window without a challenge in congress before it can be signed into law by the Governor.

Since democrat leadership in both chambers adjourned two months early, the 90-day recess ensures that this and many other bills that received no bipartisan support will be signed into law in January and February.

Democrats celebrated the move. Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, said in a statement to the Associated Press that being the fifth state to hold its presidential primary “ensures the voices of Michiganders are heard loud and clear and the primary process is truly representative of what America looks like.”

Republicans argue that the move is far from democratic, as it clearly strips republican voters from having a full voice in their primary election. Howell said to the Tribune, “I am a partisan. I’m a republican and I am conservative on every issue. But I want what is best for everyone, even for democrats. The people in charge of this state, however, are ruthless partisans. They want to destroy their opponents. I worked in Lansing [as a State Representative]. I saw it firsthand.”

State Senator Kevin Daley, R-Lapeer, told the Tribune, “The goal of democrats is to disenfranchise republicans from voting in the primary.”

“This was a huge priority for Governor Whitmer in her quest for national attention… for a run for vice president or president,” continued Senator Daley.

Howell speculates that a further motivation is to ensure a Biden nomination. “Biden is especially unpopular and vulnerable in Iowa and New Hampshire. He lost both states in 2020. Because of that, the DNC has pressed to get South Carolina and Michigan in February to get him more early momentum. Biden’s 2020 nomination only became possible after he won South Carolina that year, and he’s expected to carry Michigan behind the union vote.”

Unless the RNC changes its rules, which could unleash the floodgates to primaries being held nearly a year before the general election, it seems republican voters have been forced to vote in a primary where the voters only determine 30% of the delegates.  The other option is to cast a full vote in the democrat primary against the democratic front runner, which they are legally allowed to do in Michigan. (corrected 11/26/2023)

Last week, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson published the ballots for the Feb 27 primary. The candidates for President of the United States on Michigan’s democrat primary ballot are: President Joe Biden, Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minnesota, and Marianne Williamson, who also ran for president in 2020.

Howell suggested that Republican voters have a potential Plan B “protest vote” in this primary. He said, “If Republicans really want their voice to be heard in this primary election, they might consider a vote in the Democrat Primary for Dean Phillips against Biden. That would be a protest vote and the only vote of legal consequence in this year’s primary.”

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming presidential primary, Michigan’s local and state elections in 2024 are highly consequential. Senator Daley added this advice for Michigan Republican voters: “I urge all Republican voters to work to unify, encourage, and support great candidates for the upcoming 2024 elections. We need to unify in this state to get the Michigan house [of representatives] back.”

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