Chad Blair: Should Hawaii Have A State-Run Presidential Primary? - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

A bill pending at the Legislature proposes exactly that. But it will cost big bucks and it may not impact the race.

A reader emailed me and my CB colleagues the other day asking if we could “dust off and re-publish” an editorial from March 2016 in which we argued for a state-run presidential primary.

“I think it might help ensure the bill passes,” wrote Bart Dame, a longtime Democratic Party activist who is championing a bill at the Legislature this year to establish such a primary. “If you read the 2016 editorial, I think you will be impressed at how well it has held up. How ‘prescient’ you were.”

The editorial took to task a Democratic presidential preference poll held that spring that was rather poorly organized.

It was neither a primary nor a caucus, but it was run by the Democratic Party of Hawaii. Part of the problem, as I recall, was that the party underestimated just how popular Bernie Sanders was compared to Hillary Clinton, who outpolled her by a more than 2-to-1 ratio.

A similar poll in 2008 actually ran out of ballots and voters had to make handmade ballots out of scratch paper. Things went much better in May 2020, but by then it was a mail-in ballot and Joe Biden had already sewn up the nomination.

“It’s time to get rid of the preference poll and move to a formal primary, as most other states have done over the past 100 years,” the editorial argued.

I was not on the editorial board at the time, but I did cover the Saturday preference poll and crafted one of my best headlines ever (if I may humble brag): “Weekend At Bernie’s: Hawaii Democrats Embrace Sanders.”

Three years ago, after the fiasco of the Iowa Caucus that year that could not determine who actually won on election night, I argued in a column that Hawaii should hold the first presidential contest.

“Reason No. 1 – Tulsi Gabbard could spend time in her home state,” I wrote.

Too Little, Too Late

Bart Dame’s bill, Senate Bill 1005 (which was introduced by Sens. Karl Rhoads, Stanley Chang and Gil Keith-Agaran), would set up a state-run primary out of the Office of Elections and find a way to pay for it, including by charging presidential candidates a $3,000 filing fee.

It won’t be cheap. Chief Election Officer Scott Nago says an initial estimate would be nearly $4 million. The four county clerks also raised concerns about costs and logistics.

I also wonder how useful it will be to have a primary on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in April, although it would not happen until 2028 at the earliest.

Dozens of states will hold their 2024 primaries in February and March and there is a good chance the contest will be settled by then, as has been the case in most recent elections. They include California, which has a heck of a lot more delegates than we do.

The Democratic National Convention has also upended the traditional order, making South Carolina the first primary state on Feb. 3 followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6. Georgia’s is on Feb. 13 and Michigan’s is Feb. 27.

'Join Dem Party' sign with photograph of Bernie Sanders at the Ward Warehouse campaign headquarters. 26 march 2016.
A sign of the times at the Bernie Sanders Ward Warehouse campaign headquarters. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016)

Last I checked, New Hampshire is protesting the switch while Iowa is miffed that Democrats will blow off the caucus completely. The reason for the changeup is that both states are overwhelmingly white and, though it is voiced less loudly, that Biden lost both states badly before prevailing down South.

The Republicans, meanwhile, are sticking with the traditional schedule of starting with Iowa on Feb. 5 and then New Hampshire on Feb. 13. South Carolina is next on Feb. 24. (A GOP caucus is set for Hawaii on March 12.)

The Democratic Party of Hawaii supports SB 1005, which is now in conference committee.

There are compelling reasons for the primary. In his April 5 testimony, Dame noted that the number of Hawaii residents wanting to vote in the presidential nominating process “has grown to the point where it has outstripped the ability of the political parties to provide a convenient, secure, accurate and verifiable means for them to cast their vote.”

He also pointed out that only six states continue to use caucuses or party-run primaries. Five of them — Alaska, Kansas, Iowa, North Dakota and Wyoming — are red states.

To close, allow me to take Dame’s recommendation to repeat my previous conclusions on why Hawaii should hold the first presidential primary, including because the weather is much better here than in Iowa and New Hampshire in winter:

  • No. 9 – Hawaii is usually partly cloudy with windward and mauka showers.
  • No. 4 – Hawaii would receive tons of media coverage.
  • No. 3 – Hawaii has a lot fewer white people.

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Latest Comments (0)

This whole issue is inconsequential and irrelevant. Hawaii has far more pressing issues than who serves as the figurehead of a late stage empire in decline. Let’s focus on Hawaiian issues that affect Hawaiian people.

LibertyAbides · 7 months ago

Thanks for bringing attention to the bill. A small correction: In my testimony, to which you refer, of the only 6 states which do NOT have a state-run presidential primary, I wrote:"I note the other states without a government-run primary are all run by Republicans. All states appear to be moving away from using party-run caucuses, but it has been the DNC that has been pushing states to move away from caucuses. In 2020, Washington state abandoned the use of caucuses and held a government-run primary. In 2024, Nevada will hold its first state-run presidential primary. Hawaii is the last holdout among Democratic-led states." 44 other states, both "red" and "blue," provide their residents a secure and easy way to help pick the president. Why not Hawaii? In my view, it is because the DPH has wanted to retain ownership of the process, despite our inability to do so effectively, as evidenced in the 2008, ‘16 & 2020 cycles. BTW, while I am working on this, it is not MY bill. I was initially very skeptical when DPH state chair Dennis Jung proposed it. But, I believe, as quoted, Hawaii residents "a convenient, secure, accurate and verifiable means for them to" help pick the president.

Bart808 · 7 months ago

Yes! A no-brainer. Too expensive? Please! A democracy should not be run like a garage sale. Some prior primaries were a real mess.

Aikea · 7 months ago

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