Thursday, October 1, 2015

North Carolina Presidential Primary Shifts to March 15 After McCrory Signature

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) signed HB 373 into law on Wednesday, September 30. The action untethers the presidential primary in the Tar Heel state from the earliest South Carolina presidential primary and sets a firm date (March 15) for the 2016 cycle.

The move two years ago to push the North Carolina presidential primary away from the usual May date where it was consolidated with other primaries has been controversial ever since. Not only did it introduce budgetary issues -- having to fund a new and separate presidential primary election -- but it made the state's parties vulnerable to national party penalties for conducting their delegate selection processes through a non-compliant (too early) primary. Both factors put almost instant pressure on partisans in the legislature to make a change.

The General Assembly sought to deal with the latter factor (primary timing) first and in the last months has moved to shift the May primaries up to coincide with the earlier presidential primary to solve the budgetary expenditure.

Now that the bill has passed the legislative hurdle and been signed into law all of that is settled for 2016. That means that the March 15 North Carolina presidential primary will coincide with similar contests in Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio. However, bear in mind that this change -- North Carolina primaries in March -- is only in effect for the 2016 cycle. The date called for in the law is specific to 2016. That means that everything will revert to the way it was prior to the signing of this law after 2016. The regular primary will shift back to May and the presidential primary will once again be tied to the South Carolina presidential primary.

That is not unlike how New York has handled its presidential primary scheduling the last two cycles. The primary is scheduled on a February baseline, but has been shifted temporarily -- with a sunset in the law -- to compliant dates for 2012 and 2016. Strategically, that method forces the legislature to think about and act on the presidential primary date every cycle (as opposed to letting the negative inertia of a late, consolidated primary lead to a maintenance of the status quo; a late date).

But for now, North Carolina is compliant with national party rules and will have a March 15, 2016 presidential primary date.

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