Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has set Georgia's presidential preference primary for March 12, 2024, dealing a blow to Democrats' hopes for an earlier (if symbolic) contest and giving Republicans a chance to select delegates for multiple candidates.

Georgia's presidential primary will come one week after the so-called "Super Tuesday" of states like Texas, California and North Carolina that will provide a plurality of the Republican Party's delegates for the 2024 nominating convention and a week before other key states like Arizona, Florida and Ohio.

Unlike other partisan primaries where the winner advances to a general election after clearing more than 50% of the vote (either in the primary or in a top-two runoff weeks later), presidential primaries in Georgia award delegates to candidates based on differing formulas and requirements governed by Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee rules.

For Democrats, President Joe Biden is expected to cruise to renomination while Republicans see a growing field to challenge former President Donald Trump, who is still the frontrunner and popular with a sizable portion of the party's base despite losing in 2020 and contributing to key losses in 2022.

The DNC voted earlier this year to leapfrog Georgia into the into the early window of states as part of a calendar shakeup that would see South Carolina go first on Feb. 3, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6, then Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan two weeks later instead of the typical start with Iowa.

But from the start, Raffensperger's office threw cold water on the plan, telling reporters that Georgia would not hold presidential primaries on two separate days and highlighting that Republican delegate rules would penalize Georgia or any other state that encroached on the early window.

"We're not going to have two different primaries because that's a lot of stress and strain on poll workers in the counties," Gabriel Sterling with the Secretary of State's office said in December. "We're going to have one presidential preference primary day, and whichever one has the furthest-out amount of rules around that, which right now is the Republicans, we will stick with that, which means we will have a March primary."

March 12 is later than Georgia's "SEC primary" of mainly Southern states that voted on March 1 in 2016 and earlier than the March 24 plan for 2020 that was delayed twice by the coronavirus pandemic, but could hold a crucial role in a contested Republican primary.

RNC rules state that any presidential primary, caucus, convention or other process to select delegates prior to March 15 must use proportional allocation instead of a winner-take-all scenario, meaning candidates who perform well in different congressional districts would split the state's estimated 59 delegates.

Under the most recent rules of the state GOP passed in 2020, that would mean any candidate who gets more than 20% of the statewide vote would get delegates, with any candidate winning the majority of a Congressional district earning three delegates, or two for the highest vote-getter and one for the second-highest. At-large delegates are assigned based on the percentage of the statewide vote earned.

For example, in 2016, Donald Trump won 12 of the 14 Congressional Districts and finished second in the other two, netting him 26 delegates, and he received 44.7% of the statewide vote, netting 16 of the 34 statewide delegates (15 proportionally and then one remainder after allocating the rest between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz's shares). Rubio earned a plurality of the vote in two Congressional districts and finished second in three, earning him seven delegates. He also received 28% of the statewide vote, netting him nine of the 34 statewide delegates. Cruz finished second in nine Congressional districts and received 27% of the statewide vote, and nine of the 34 statewide delegates.

Georgia Republicans will have fewer delegates this cycle than the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections because the party allocates bonus delegates based on Republican majorities in state legislatures and the state's U.S. House delegation as well as size of GOP victories in previous presidential elections (Trump lost Georgia) and recent U.S. Senate elections (Democrats won in 2021 and 2022).

For Democrats, the delegate math includes a 15% threshold to receive delegates using a combination of proportional delegates per Congressional District, 16 party leaders and elected officials and 23 at-large delegates, though Biden is not facing serious competition as he seeks a second term.

Raffensperger's decision all but ends the Democrats' push to capitalize on Georgia's battleground status and national prominence by moving its primary earlier, though both parties have expressed optimism that future election cycles could see a more permanent calendar shift.