Committee to decide primary date still not appointed

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Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida reports: Almost three months after Gov. Rick Scott signed a controversial elections law tasking a new committee with selecting a date for the state’s presidential primary, none of the members of the panel have been appointed to try to defuse a looming battle with the national Republican party.

The only certainty about the committee’s make-up is that Secretary of State Kurt Browning will serve as the non-voting chairman. But neither Scott, House Speaker Dean Cannon nor Senate President Mike Haridopolos have appointed any of the other nine members to the panel.

The provision is aimed at ending a conflict between the state GOP, which had its nominating contest set for January, and the national party, which has insisted that Florida will be penalized if it violates a party rule barring states outside of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada from holding their primaries before March.

The law allows the committee to choose any day from the first Tuesday in January to the first Tuesday in March for the vote.

Speaking with reporters on the day Scott signed the bill in May, Browning said he would hope that the other members of the committee would be named “sooner (rather) than later.”

“As soon as those appointments are made, then we will in fact schedule a meeting date,” he said.

Scott suggested this week that he hasn’t devoted much time to his appointments.

“I haven’t thought about it yet,” he said Monday. “I don’t think I have to do it until some time in September. It’s work to get ahead of all these appointments you do. So we have a list.”

A spokeswoman for Cannon, R-Winter Park, also suggested that the speaker was in no hurry to name anyone to the committee, which has to set a date by Oct. 1. Katie Betta said the speaker isn’t expected to name members until “late summer or early fall” to preserve the state’s flexibility as other primaries are set.

“Ultimately, Speaker Cannon supports choosing a date that will allow Florida to remain a relevant player in the process,” Betta wrote in an email. “For him, that requires selecting a date that is both early and unique to Florida. We will have a better picture of what that date might be as other states begin to make their decisions.”

But the lack of a clear date — or even an idea of when the committee might meet — is making some elections officials nervous. Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections for Leon County, said he would normally already be checking in with potential voting locations and making reservations in anticipation of next year’s primary.

Sancho said he had spoken to Browning at a reception in the spring and asked when the date might be chosen. Browning said the state should try to have it done by late summer — something that now seems unlikely.

Waiting much longer could endanger the ability to reserve polling locations whenever the state picks a date, potentially limiting the number of places where voters could cast their ballots, said Sancho, a harsh critic of the law as it moved through the Legislature.

“All of this is just completely unfair to the citizens and the voters of the state of Florida,” he said.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.