Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Idaho Senate Passes March Presidential Primary Bill

Idaho got one step closer to bringing back a presidential primary on Tuesday, March 3. By a 23-11 vote, the Idaho state Senate passed SB 1066. The measure would reestablish a presidential primary election in the Gem state, but schedule it to coincide with second Tuesday in March school elections instead the May position it has been consolidated on with other primaries for state and local offices.

Democrats in Idaho have traditionally selected and allocated delegates to the national convention through a caucuses/convention system, but when Idaho Republicans followed suit -- abandoning the May primary for March caucuses for the 2012 cycle -- the Republican-controlled legislature eliminated the May presidential primary.

The bill to revive the presidential primary now moves to the state House, where at least one representative and member of the Idaho Republican State Central Committee, Ronald Nate (R-34th, Rexburg), has already spoken out against the move.1 How widespread that opposition is in the House remains to be seen. The Idaho Republican Party recently passed a resolution to support a shift back to the primary from caucuses if the legislature is able to pass a bill.

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1 Rep. Nate had the following to say on SB 1066 in the Senate hearing (via Betsy Z. Russell at the Idaho Spokesman-Review):
Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, said he was speaking not as a state representative but as a Republican Party official, a current Idaho GOP central committee member and the past rules committee chairman. “Nominating presidential candidates is a party function,” Nate told the Senate State Affairs Committee. “The Idaho taxpayer should not be forced to pay for Democratic, Republican or other party’s nominations. … With current budget priorities like education and transportation in question in Idaho, we should not be spending another nickel and certainly not another $2 million to help political parties do their work.” 
Nate said the Idaho GOP in January approved an absentee voting process for its presidential selection caucuses that he said would address concerns about some members, from military members to the elderly, not being able to participate.
Similar arguments were made on the floor of the state Senate when the bill was being debated.

Rep. Nate was also the chair of the 2012 Idaho Republican Caucuses and helped draft the rules that governed them.


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From Mississippi, One SEC Primary Bill Dead, Another Survives Deadline

Tuesday, March 3 marked the day in the Mississippi state legislature that bills passed in one chamber had to have made it through committee in the opposite chamber. Neither of the bills -- one from the House and one from the Senate -- affecting the date of the presidential primary in the Magnolia state had cleared that hurdle heading into Tuesday.

Once the dust had settled on the day, the state Senate-passed version of the bill (SB 2531) was reported favorably from the House Apportionment and Elections Committee while the House-passed version (HB 933) failed to navigate the Senate Rules Committee.

This was not an oversight. Recall that both bills started off in the same place -- with identical language -- but an amended version of the Senate bill passed the Senate and headed to the House.  The bill introduced in the House, however, pushed through the committee phase and consideration on the floor without amendment.

The state Senate, then, would have been motivated to support its amended version and not the unamended one the House passed and sent the upper chamber.

That is one interpretation of the move. But this likely is not a story of inter-chamber dispute. Rather, the Mississippi legislature only has to pass one of these bills. It could wrangle over two different bills or it could drop one and negotiated over the particulars of the other. Given the events of yesterday, it is clear legislators opted to take the latter path.

The House Apportionment and Elections Committee made some minor changes to SB 2531 and recommended that the bill "do pass" on the House floor. But if the bill passes the House it will have to return to the Senate for the upper chamber's approval of the changes made by the House committee (and floor if there are amendments made there).

The bottom line, though, is that the process to move the Mississippi presidential primary up a week on the presidential primary calendar -- to the proposed SEC primary slot -- moved forward Tuesday.


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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Florida Senate Committee Reports March 15 Presidential Primary Bill Favorably

The Florida state Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections conducted a hearing on SB 7036 this afternoon (Tuesday, March 3). The legislation would create a "static and permanent" date for the Florida presidential primary on March 15.

There was some discussion about the bill, but it was not extensive. Mainly, Florida Democrats on the committee questioned how the bill would affect the Democratic primary process in the Sunshine state. The provisions in the bill do not affect the Democratic Party any differently. The primary date would be on March 15.

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The one thing that did come up that FHQ would push back on is that this bill is intended to allow Florida Republicans to maintain winner-take-all rules. It was argued that current law calls for a March 1 primary which would prevent the Republican Party of Florida from allocating its delegates in a winner-take-all fashion.

This is not true. And FHQ is probably to blame. If not for this post -- based on a misreading of the RNC rules described in the Editor's Note here -- legislators in the Sunshine state would likely not have come to this conclusion. I know. That sounds big-headed of me, but they got the March 1 date interpretation from the FHQ 2016 presidential primary calendar (see footnote 5 here).

And it is wrong. I was wrong.

There is nothing that prevents Florida Republicans from having a winner-take-all primary under the current law. The law, as it stands now, moves the Florida presidential primary to the earliest date that would avoid penalties. If Florida Republicans did not have some version of winner-take-all rules in their delegate allocation plan, then that earliest, non-penalized point on the calendar would be March 1. But since it appears as if winner-take-all is going nowhere, that earliest, non-penalized date is March 15.

There is no need for Florida legislators to change the law. It would call for a March 15 primary date regardless. The one benefit to the change is clarity. A "static and permanent" date does that.

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The bill -- identical to the House committee-passed bill -- now moves on to consideration on the Senate floor.


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Amended Senate Bill Would Push Maryland Presidential Primary Back Further into April

SB 204 passed a procedural hurdle on Tuesday, March 3 in the Maryland state Senate, but not before the bill an amendment was offered and agreed to on the floor by its author and sponsor, Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-43rd, Baltimore City).

In its amended form, SB 204 would shift the presidential primary in Maryland from the first Tuesday in April to the fourth Tuesday in April. Previous versions pushed the election back just one week to the second Tuesday in April.

The reason for the initial change was to prevent an overlap between weekend early voting and the Easter holiday. Furthermore, the final canvass and certification of the results after the election would avoid a conflict with the Passover holiday. However, the new fourth Tuesday in April date called for in the amended bill falls right in the middle of the Passover week in 2016; on April 26.

The one benefit of the fourth Tuesday in April date is that it coincides with a number of other primaries in nearby states; notably Pennsylvania and Delaware, but Connecticut and Rhode Island as well. Maryland has been a part of subregional primaries during the last two cycles. It was paired with the primary in Washington, DC in 2012 and combined with both DC and Virginia for the Potomac Primary in 2008.


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Oklahoma Senate Passes Bill to Move Presidential Primary Back Three Weeks

By a vote of 39-2, the Oklahoma state Senate passed SB 233 on Tuesday, March 3. The measure would shift the presidential primary in the Sooner state from the first Tuesday in March to the fourth Tuesday in March.

In 2016, that would mean moving out of the proposed SEC primary slot on March 1 and to March 22. That spot on the calendar is currently occupied by only Arizona. Utah legislation would make that date an option in the Beehive state if passed as well.

The legislation now moves on to the Oklahoma state House.

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Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for passing news of the bill's passage on to FHQ.


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Bill to Move Illinois Presidential Primary from March to July Introduced

A second bill to shift back the date of the Illinois consolidated primary has been introduced in the state House. Instead of moving it back to June like the other bill, though, HB 3107 would push the Illinois primary -- including the presidential primary -- back to the third Tuesday in July.

Now, obviously the bill from Rep. Steve Andersson (R-65th, Geneva) is problematic. If this bill were to pass the legislature and be signed into law, the Illinois presidential primary would fall (July 19) on the same week that the Republican National Convention will be going on in Cleveland. Choosing delegates in an election on a date during the week of the convention those delegates are to attend is not all that logistically feasible. The conflict would run into the same difficulties as the August Montana primary proposal FHQ discussed last week. In the case of Illinois, however, the delegates actually appear on the primary ballot and are chosen in that manner rather than selected in caucuses and bound by primary results. That is a unique wrinkle in Illinois that would make implementing a change to a July primary even more difficult.

The June primary idea has been floated in the Illinois legislature previously and went nowhere. And as FHQ detailed in the Montana primary discussion last week, proposals calling for a presidential primary during or after a national convention has already occurred have been brought forth in the past, but none of them have successfully navigated through a legislature, much less been signed into law.


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The Slippery Slope in North Carolina Rogue Primary Coverage

There is one narrative that seems to be emerging in the coverage of the North Carolina presidential primary drama that is not necessarily true to the spirit of the legislative wrangling that brought the Tar Heel state into the crosshairs of the national parties. It goes something like this:
"Two years ago lawmakers decided to make the primary earlier - on the first Tuesday after South Carolina's, next February. State GOP Chairman Claude Pope now wants the primary moved to March 1st. He says the national Republican Party is threatening to take away delegates from North Carolina for the earlier primary."
Now, FHQ does not want to pick on WUNC's Jeff Tiberii. His piece is a short blog post -- and he is certainly not alone in this -- but it is representative of the direction some of the other media coverage on the North Carolina presidential primary situation is going. The implication is that decision-makers in North Carolina just cannot make up their minds. They were for an early presidential primary before they were against it.

Yes, legislators in Raleigh passed HB 589 in the summer of 2013. And yes, it moved the presidential primary out of May, tethering it to the likely February South Carolina primary. But decision-makers in North Carolina have not suddenly in 2015 found religion and awakened to the possibility of sanctions from the Republican National Committee.

Those penalties -- the so-called super penalty -- were in place coming out of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. And though the penalty was tweaked between that time and the summer of 2014 when the RNC finalized its delegate rules for 2016, how North Carolina would have been affected by the penalty -- assuming a rogue primary date -- never changed. Additionally, Rep. David Lewis (R-53rd, Harnett) was in the state House and was North Carolina Republicans' national committeeman representative on the RNC.1

Overall, though, this North Carolina dilemma is less a story of legislative indecision than it is a story of legislative process. The 2013 omnibus elections bill -- HB 589 -- originated in the North Carolina House. The version that passed the state House did not contain any language affecting the positioning of the North Carolina presidential primary. It was not until the bill got to the state Senate that the presidential primary provision was added.

There are two other important elements to this that help set the context in 2013. First, the bill was controversial and ladened with changes to the way elections would subsequently be conducted in North Carolina. Provisions cutting back on the number of days of early voting and requiring a photo ID were the big ticket items and received exponentially more scrutiny. The presidential primary portion of the lengthy bill was at best an afterthought. In combination with that was the timing of all of this. The state Senate committee substitute to the House-passed bill hit the floor of the Senate for consideration with the clock running out on the 2013 legislative session. Republicans in control of the legislature wanted to pass something and send some elections changes to the new-in-2013 Republican governor's desk to be signed into law.

Here is a situation, then, where you have a throwaway primary provision in a bill that is being considered in an environment in which legislators are rushing to pass something, anything to change up the elections system in North Carolina.

The state Senate passed the bill after 5PM on the final day of the session. The bill then went to the House, which had to either concur with the Senate changes -- including the presidential primary provision -- or tweak those changes and send the bill back to the Senate. Again, the House got this bill after 5PM on the last day of the session. To concur meant to go home. Amending the Senate changes, however, meant prolonging the process even further.

That was the decision the representatives in the state House faced. Agree and go home or change and keep at it into the night. They chose the former, passing the bill along party lines and calling it a session.

Again, this isn't a story about indecision. If anything this further extends the battle lines that are drawn between the North Carolina House and Senate. The state Senate added the primary provision in 2013 and is defending it now. Members in the House may or may not have wanted to go along with that at the time. Those in the House and the North Carolina Republican Party may regret that decision now, but that is not part of some flip-flop they have done on the scheduling of the North Carolina presidential primary.

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1 How well known those RNC penalties were to legislators at the time of the bill's passage is an unknown in all of this. In the immediate aftermath of the bill being signed into law, some North Carolina senators were already defiant.


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Monday, March 2, 2015

March 15 Presidential Primary Bill Sails Through Florida House Committee

The Florida state legislature does not officially convene its 2015 session until tomorrow (Tuesday, March 3), but the process for pre-filing bills began weeks ago and committee work has started as well. In the state House today (Monday, March 2), that committee work included consideration of a bill to officially set the date of the Florida presidential primary for March 15.1

The Florida House Rules, Calendar and Ethics Committee unanimously passed PCB RCEC 15-05 this afternoon with no discussion and no debate.2 It was not controversial to say the least. This is basically a committee-sponsored bill that will now be assigned a House bill number. The committee chair, Rep. Ritch Workman (R-52nd, Melbourne), spoke on behalf of the bill and will likely be the sponsor.


This House legislation mirrors the bill introduced in the Florida state Senate last week.

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1 Technically, under current state law, the primary would be scheduled for March 15 anyway.

2 PCB RCEC is Proposed Committee Bill from the Rules, Calendar and Ethics Committee.

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County Elections Officials in Arkansas Mostly Supportive of SEC Primary Move

FHQ has mentioned more than once that moving the Arkansas presidential primary up from May to the SEC primary date in March would be more difficult than other southern states seeking to join the regional primary.1

Any resistance that does exist to SB 389 does not seem to extend to those -- in the Arkansas county Boards of Elections -- who will be tasked with administering the proposed March 1 primary election in 2016 nor to state legislators. At least in the populous far northwestern corner of the Natural state, there is no real fervent opposition to joining the SEC primary.

The most obstruction to the SEC primary move Dan Holtmeyer at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette could find had more to do with certifying candidates over Christmas than the March primary itself.
[Washington County election coordinator Jennifer] Price said the primary itself wouldn't be a problem; her concern is it would push candidate certification and ballot draws 75 days before the primary, or into the holidays in late December, which could be more difficult with fewer election workers around.  
"People kind of disappear over Christmas," Price said. She suggested allowing ballot draws and other requirements to take place in early December.
Even the area state senator who sponsored legislation in the state House in 2009 to eliminate the separate presidential primary election and move it back to the May primary is open to supporting the shift to March. According to Holtmeyer, that support comes with something of a contingency:
"We quickly went to the back burner [in 2008] because it didn't matter," said [State Senator Jon] Woods, who led the effort in the House to return the primary to May in 2009 and is part of the Senate committee that will consider SB 389. He said he might support moving primaries if local races are moved as well, but for now, "I'm not sure I'm really sold on it." [Emphasis FHQ's]
Of course, moving all the primaries to March would mean that the primaries for state legislators would overlap with the legislative session, something that has been frowned on in Arkansas in the past. That has been another impediment to primary movement in Arkansas.

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1 The snag is a function of the resistance to moving the consolidated primary -- including the presidential primary -- from the typical May position to March or facing the alternative of creating and funding a new and separate election for the presidential primary.


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Is the Florida Republican Presidential Primary Winner-Take-All?

That all depends.

By all accounts, there is momentum in Florida to facilitate the conditions under which a winner-take-all presidential primary can take place in 2016. The Republican Party of Florida chair likes the idea of a winner-take-all method of delegate allocation. The Republican-controlled state legislature in the Sunshine state is moving to create some long-absent certainty with the primary date. That -- setting the primary date specifically for March 15 -- would allow Florida Republicans to allocate the 99 delegates apportioned them in a winner-take-all fashion under the Republican National Committee rules governing the 2016 presidential nomination process.

But will Florida Republicans allocate all 99 delegates to the winner of the 2016 presidential primary?

That remains to be seen. And it would actually require a rules change on the state party level in order to make that happen. The delegate allocation plans used in both 2008 and 2012 were only truly winner-take-all in the event that the Republican Party of Florida was penalized by the RNC.1 The non-compliant January primary triggered that state party provision in 2008 and history repeated itself four years later in 2012 when Florida again defied the RNC rules and held a January primary.2

Under the rules used in 2012, Florida Republicans would not allocate all of their delegates to the winner of the presidential primary. Instead the allocation would be a bit more complicated.

To fully explain this, we need to look at how delegates are apportioned to the each of the states from the Republican National Committee.3 The formula used by the RNC gives three (3) delegates for each congressional district in a state and ten (10) at-large delegates.4 Additionally, states receive bonus delegates for a recent history of voting with the Republican Party. This provides a greater voice to loyally Republican states at least as compared to states that are either more competitive between the two major parties or are more Democratic. A good illustration of this is that in 2012 a more populous yet more competitive state like Ohio had fewer total delegates than a slightly less populous yet more Republican state like Georgia. Those bonus delegates are tacked onto the at-large total.

The important factor to note here is that there is a distinction between at-large and congressional district delegates.

Of the states that have delegate allocation plans somewhere on the spectrum between truly winner-take-all rules and truly proportional rules, a number tend to allocate the three congressional district delegates to the winner of the congressional district and then allocate the at-large delegates either proportionally or winner-take-all based on the statewide vote.5 Those states, then, draw that distinction between congressional district and at-large delegates in their allocation plans as derived from the RNC apportionment.

Importantly, Florida has not followed that pattern in the last two presidential election cycles. And that would have been true with or without the sanctions from the RNC. With the penalties, the Florida delegate selection rules called for a winner-take-all allocation of the full delegation to the winner of the statewide primary. All of those delegates were considered at-large.

But let's assume for a moment for the sake of this exercise that Florida was not penalized in 2008 or 2012. The truly winner-take-all provision would not have been triggered and the Florida delegate allocation would have looked different. Neither McCain nor Romney would have won the full (yet reduced due to penalty) delegation. Yet, the allocation in Florida would not have resembled RNC apportionment-derived type of allocation described above.

Instead, Florida would have used a different formula. Assuming no penalties from the RNC, Florida Republicans would have considered one-third of its total allotment of delegates to have been at-large. The remaining two-thirds would have been deemed congressional district delegates.

That is all different from the RNC apportionment-derived method used in most other states. To illustrate, consider this: Florida will have 99 delegates for the 2016 cycle. If Florida was like other states, Republicans there would be apportioned 81 congressional district delegates (3 delegates per each of 27 congressional districts) by the RNC and the remaining 18 would be at-large delegates. Most states using a winner-take-all by congressional district method would treat the congressional district-apportioned delegates as congressional district delegates. In other words, if a candidate wins the district, then the the winning candidate is awarded three delegates.

Florida Republicans do not sync their congressional district-apportioned delegates with the allocation of what they call congressional district delegates.

Under the one-third/two-thirds method Florida Republicans would have used in the even they were not sanctioned in 2008 or 2012, the ratio of congressional district delegates to at-large delegates would be different. As an example, let's use the same 99 delegate total from above.
  • One third of that total comprises the at-large pool of delegates. 33 at-large delegates.
  • The remaining two-thirds are congressional district delegates. 66 congressional district delegates.
  • However, 66 congressional district delegates are not able to be evenly distributed across 27 congressional districts. The rounding down mentioned above matter less in the aggregate total than it does at this point in the calculation. 66/27 = 2.44 delegates per congressional district. That number is rounded down and the remainder is added to the at-large pool of delegates. 
  • So, that essentially equates to two (2) delegates per each of the 27 congressional district in Florida. (2.44-0.44)*27 = 54 congressional district delegates.
  • That remainder is then added to the at-large pool. 33 original at-large delegates + (0.44 rounded/fractional delegates*27 congressional districts) = 45 at-large delegates.
  • That means Florida ends up not with a 2:1 congressional district to at-large delegates ratio, but a 6:5 ratio. 
The intent in all of this is not to add mathematical confusion to the delegate allocation equation. Rather, the idea is to redistribute the impact of the vote in the Florida primary. It places more emphasis on winning the statewide vote than on the 27 elections across the congressional districts. That is a lot closer to a truly winner-take-all allocation than if each of the congressional district delegates made up 81 of 99 total delegates. But it still is not a truly winner-take-all allocation. There can be variation in the winners across each of those congressional districts. And that, in turn, means that one candidate will not necessarily win the full delegation.

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Will Florida Republicans' allocation look like the above in 2016 or will it be a truly winner-take-all contest as it was in 2008 and 2012? To be the latter, the Republican Party of Florida will have to make a change to its delegate selection/allocation rules. Media outlet after media outlet is reporting that Florida is attempting to solidify the March 15 date for the presidential primary as a means of assuring a winner-take-all plan. A true winner-take-all plan.

But FHQ is not entirely sure that is what Florida will end up with in 2016.

If one reads the fine print in the Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement for SB 7036 -- the bill to set March 15 as the Florida presidential primary date -- one will see that Rule 10 was revised in January 2014. What that revision entails is unknown.6 Does it mean a truly winner-take-all allocation for Florida Republicans?

FHQ would argue no.

The current Florida statute regarding the parameters of the presidential primary also state the following:
Any party rule directing the vote of delegates at a national nominating convention shall reasonably reflect the results of the presidential preference primary, if one is held.
Yes, that is somewhat ambiguous. But "reasonably reflect the results" is being interpreted in Florida as a mandate for some form of proportionality. But perhaps it would be better to say that the mandate is against a true winner-take-all allocation method. The net result is not going to be anything approaching a proportionate allocation based on the results of the primary. What is does is open the door to multiple candidates receiving delegates from the Florida primary. But winning any delegates would be dependent upon winning the vote in a congressional district.

At this point, FHQ is skeptical that Florida will award all 99 delegates to one candidate in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination race. That skepticism is driven by 1) the entire discussion above and 2) the uncertainty with regard to the changes the Republican Party of Florida made to Rule 10 in January 2014.

Even with those changes, though, it looks as if Florida Republicans are not all the way to the winner-take-all end of the proportional to winner-take-all delegate allocation spectrum. The plan seems to be pretty close, but not truly winner-take-all. That not only breaks from the allocation in 2008 and 2012, but subtly breaks from the conventional wisdom about Florida Republican delegate allocation.

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1 Rule 10.M of the Republican Party of Florida, Party Rules of Procedure grants:
In the event that the Republican National Convention refuses to seat the full allotment of Florida delegates, all remaining delegates shall be Delegates at Large and shall be selected by the Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida from the original delegation.
And due to the fact that Rule 10.B calls for all at-large delegates to be allocated to the winner of the statewide vote, Florida's penalized total of delegates in 2008 and 2012 were allocated to the statewide winner of the primary.

2 Interestingly, the decision by the state legislature-created Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee to schedule a January primary brought on a 50% penalty from the RNC which in turn triggered a truly winner-take-all allocation method that also broke with Republican National Committee delegate selection rules. That, too, should have cost Florida Republicans 50% of their delegates. However, the 50% penalty could only be levied once under RNC rules. Sequentially, it was primary date that first prompted the RNC penalty.

3 See Rule 14 of the Rules of the Republican Party.

4 Those ten base, at-large delegates are based on the number of US senators a state has. Each state has two and each senate slot receives five (5) delegates. In this way, both across congressional district  and at-large delegates, the Republican National Committee apportionment is intended to mimic representation in the US Congress.

5 See Maryland and Ohio for examples of this in 2012.

6 One of the great tragedies of studying elections is the variation in standards across states, whether state government or state party information. Some states are more willing to share than others. Some states post everything online for voters and party members to access. Others do not. The Republican Party of Florida fits in the second category. The rules of the party are nowhere to be found. ...on their web page. County party websites work occasionally, but the state party is less than forthcoming with rules information.


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