Wednesday, April 22, 2015

North Carolina Presidential Primary Bill Passes House

With crossover day looming over the proceedings at the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh, the state House moved quickly on presidential primary legislation that got the green light in committee earlier in the day.

H 457, the bill to move the presidential primary in the Tar Heel state to March 8, was favorably reported from the House Elections Committee on the morning of April 22 and was later in the evening passed by a voice vote on the House floor. The change to the primary date would bring the North Carolina presidential primary back into compliance with the national parties' delegate selection rules. As the law is currently constructed, the North Carolina presidential primary would fall on the Tuesday after the South Carolina primary. Though neither South Carolina party has officially set a primary date for the 2016 cycle, the primary in the Palmetto state is protected as a February primary by the rules of both national parties.

That would pull the North Carolina primary into February and out of compliance with those same national party rules.1 In turn, that means that both parties in North Carolina would face potential delegate reduction penalties. It is the threat of those penalties -- 50% from the DNC and over 80% from the RNC -- that has prompted the North Carolina General Assembly to consider partially reversing course on its 2013 decision to separate the North Carolina presidential primary and move it from May to February. H 457 would not shift the primary back to it traditional position in May, but would instead keep the North Carolina primary early on the presidential primary calendar while nudging it out of the pre-March 1 danger zone.

It has never been a formality that this legislation would pass the lower chamber, but it has a sponsor, Rep. David Lewis (R-53rd, Harnett), who not only chairs the House Elections Committee, but is also the North Carolina national committeeman to the RNC. With the backing of the House speaker, Lewis is a well-positioned advocate for the proposed primary date change. The expected roadblock to changing the primary date has never been in the House. It was the state Senate that added at the last minute the amendment to the omnibus elections bill changing the primary date in 2013. And it is the state Senate where vocal opposition to changing the date exists now. This bill now moves to the Senate side of the capitol building, and it is there that it will perhaps face a sterner test.

...though, there is reason to suggest that the climb will not be as steep as once thought. Senator Bob Rucho (R-39th, Mecklenburg), through whom everything elections-related goes through in the upper chamber, has moderated to some extent his previous stance backing the February date. He said Wednesday, “We’re evaluating and looking at what’s in the best interest of our state.” That is a far cry from his "we're not going to move it unless we get something out of it" position.

1 Under those rules, no state other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can hold a primary or caucuses before the first Tuesday in March (March 1 for the 2016 cycle).

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