Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Omnibus Elections Bill Could Move North Carolina Presidential Primary to February

North Carolina Republicans have been busy -- and in the news locally and nationwide too -- after taking unified control of the executive and legislative branches in the Tarheel state for the first time since Reconstruction following the 2012 elections. The latest from the General Assembly is legislation -- a state Senate committee substitute to HB 589 -- that would significantly alter the administration of elections and registration of those potentially participating in them. There are folks on both sides of the discussions around the alterations to elections, and that is a matter for a different forum.

FHQ is more interested in part 35 of the bill. That is the section that "conditionally" moves the North Carolina presidential primary to the Tuesday following the South Carolina primary. The clause in question?
On the Tuesday after the first Monday in May, 1992, and every four years thereafter, the voters of this State shall be given an opportunity to express their preference for the person to be the presidential candidate of their political party.party, except that if South Carolina holds its presidential primary before the 15th day of March, the North Carolina presidential preference primary shall be held on the Tuesday after the first South Carolina presidential preference primary of that year.
The struck through portion is what would be removed from the existing law. The underlined part is the addition.

Now, FHQ used quotation marks around conditionally above for one simple reason. The conditionality is hollow. The Democratic National Committee has not weighed in yet, but the Republican National Committee has already voted on 2016 presidential nomination rules that guarantee the South Carolina presidential primary will be in February; well before March 15.

It should also be noted that South Carolina has traditionally held a Saturday primary which would mean a February primary on a Saturday triggers a North Carolina primary just three days later. That would additionally mean that, depending upon where on the calendar all of this occurs, that the North Carolina Republican and Democratic Parties and voters could get hammered with the new Republican super penalty (and whatever strictures the DNC institutes next year). If that penalty had been in place in 2012, North Carolina Republicans would have lost over three-quarters of the total delegation to the national convention in Tampa.

The interesting thing now is that North Carolina legislators are either being extremely shrewd or have stumbled on the best dumb luck in presidential primary calendar politics of the last few cycles.1 As the current Republican rules are structured, the super penalty is only levied on states with contests prior to the last Tuesday in February. In 2016, that's February 23, the same date as the Arizona and Michigan primaries. If South Carolina opts for the Saturday before that point on the calendar -- as FHQ has speculated it might here2 -- that puts North Carolina on the same date as Arizona and Michigan. That scheduling has the additional byproduct of helping the Tarheel state avoid the super penalty.

There are a lot of fun possibilities here, but at this point, it is not clear that the primary portion of the bill will survive the legislative process and be signed into any resulting law. For one thing, if passed, North Carolina would have separate presidential and state and local primaries for the first time since 1988 (and only the second time in the post-reform era). That additional election will cost the state; something that has prevented a similar move numerous times in the past. This version of the bill is, after all, a committee substitute. It has to go to the floor as well.

But it is nice to see a fun primary bill come up during a slow summer when (presidential primary) things appeared to be winding down for the year on the state legislative front.

1 FHQ has watched all of this primary movement closer than most over the last two cycles and we have not seen a lot of dumb luck out there. And only rarely are there shrewd moves (see Missouri).

2This assumes there is a period of relative calm in 2015 as the presidential primary calendar forms in an orderly and rules-compliant manner. That is far from a sure thing, but the national parties have a fairly decent rules regime in place to combat some of the chaos of 2008 and 2012.

Recent Posts:

Are you following FHQ on TwitterGoogle+ and Facebook? Click on the links to join in.

No comments: