Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bill to Move North Carolina Presidential Primary Back into Compliance Advances Out of Committee

In a short meeting this morning, April 22, the North Carolina state House Elections Committee considered and passed H 457. The legislation would simplify the current North Carolina presidential primary law, untethering it from the South Carolina primary and scheduling the election for the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. That would fall on March 8 during the 2016 presidential election cycle, a week after the proposed SEC primary.

Again, the meeting was brief and the committee only consider this one bill. However, the proceedings were seemingly not all that controversial. The idea of moving the primary back to March was met favorably by the committee. The membership only followed up with one question about the costs. The separate presidential primary would cost the state $5 million. That is still the case under the provisions of this bill. It would simply reposition the newly separated  consolidate presidential primary. The other primaries for state and local offices continue to fall in May date.1 Members also questioned why not just leave everything in May as has been the custom in North Carolina for the majority of the post-reform era (1972-present). The response from the bill's sponsors was the obvious: the later a primary is, the more likely it is to be insignificant in deciding the nomination.

The only other comment from any of the Elections Committee members was that a presidential primary before March 1 would negatively affect Democrats as well as Republicans. Both state parties would lose delegates -- 50% from the DNC and over 80% from the RNC -- if the primary election was conducted outside of the window prescribed by the national parties (on or after March 1).

The bill was then passed -- seemingly unanimously2 -- with a favorable report and now will head to the House floor for consideration.

Yet, none of this came as unexpected news. The House Elections Committee is chaired by Rep. David Lewis (R-53rd, Harnett), who not only co-sponsored the measure, but is all the Republican national committeeman from North Carolina to the RNC. Shepherding the bill through the committee stage, then, is an afterthought. How well it does on the House floor -- how controversial it is there -- remains to be seen. However, the North Carolina state House has never really been the point of obstruction for any primary move. The real impasse is between the state House and Senate. The latter is where the proponents of the tethered, February presidential primary are.

In other words, this has not heated up much yet.

1 The current law calls for the non-presidential primaries to be conducted in May as usual. The presidential primary would be separate on the Tuesday after South Carolina. All the bill would do is shift the presidential primary back into compliance with the national party rules.

2 The chair of the committee called the vote for the ayes over any nay votes there may have been. To FHQ's ear, there were no votes in opposition. That reflects the general, non-controversial discussion of the bill.

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