Let’s begin our discussion with a selection from Part I, Title VII, Chapter 53, Section 28 of the Massachusetts General Laws:
State primaries shall be held on the seventh Tuesday preceding biennial state elections and on the fourth Tuesday preceding special state elections, except that primaries before special elections for senator or representative in congress shall be held on the sixth Tuesday preceding said elections. If a religious holiday falls on or immediately before the second Tuesday in September in an even-numbered year, the state primary shall be held on a date set by the state secretary within 7 days of the second Tuesday in September.
Counting back seven weeks (49 days) from Tuesday, November 3, state law placed the 2020 primary on Tuesday, September 15.
The state secretary can change the primary date if a religious holiday interferes. When I think of September religious holidays, I think of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah began at sundown on Friday, September 18. Yom Kippur began nine days later. No conflict there.
What was the religious holiday that prompted the primary to move from September 15 to September 1? I don’t know. My search of interfaith calendars was fruitless. Perhaps the secretary viewed the deadline for mailing federal military ballots (45 days before the election) a religious experience, and his prayers for meeting the federal deadline resulted in moving the primary to the Tuesday before Labor Day.
If we do nothing, the primary (49 days before the election) will always be four days before the federal deadline for mailing ballots. Rosh Hashanah in 2022 will begin at sundown on Sunday, September 25, so we will need another fictional religious holiday to permit the state secretary to prevent the 2022 primary from occurring just four days before the federal deadline.
If Question 2 passes, the need for a cushion between the primary and the federal deadline will only increase, as there is no doubt the process of moving any necessary RCV counts to the central tally facility will take time.
Will our legislature continue to tolerate fictional holidays? Will it continue to allow the primary to move to a date not contemplated by state law? If the legislature does move the primary, will they move it back just a couple of weeks into August, or will they do the right thing and move it into May?
The legislature? Do the right thing? Don’t count on it.