Wednesday, April 1, 2015

North Carolina Bill to Untether Presidential Primary from South Carolina's Introduced

North Carolina state Rep. David Lewis (R-53rd, Harnett) and two other House Republicans on Wednesday, April 1 filed H 457 in the North Carolina General Assembly. The bill would in some ways reverse the changes made to the scheduling of the North Carolina presidential primary in an omnibus elections bill in 2013.

As it stands now, the law anchors the North Carolina presidential primary to the presidential primary in neighboring South Carolina. The primary, according to the law, would fall on the Tuesday after the South Carolina primary. Enacting that law was a problematic maneuver from the start. South Carolina has had its first in the South status codified at the national party level over the last couple of presidential election cycles and prefers to have both a Saturday primary and one that is at least seven days earlier than the next earliest southern state presidential primary. The North Carolina law conflicts with all of that. Not only would a primary on the Tuesday after South Carolina fall within that seven day buffer South Carolina prefers, but the position of the South Carolina primary would likely draw the North Carolina primary to a point on the calendar -- in February -- that would violate the new, stricter Republican National Committee rule prohibiting primaries and caucuses (other than the four carve-out state) before March 1.

The specter of that super penalty looms large over the North Carolina presidential primary situation. That reality likely contributed to Lewis -- the Republican National Committeeman from North Carolina -- to introduce this legislation. And again, it somewhat reverses the changes made in 2013. H 457 would pull the North Carolina presidential primary back to a solid position on March 8, but would maintain the May date for the other primaries. Throughout much of the post-reform era, North Carolina has conducted its presidential primaries in concert with those for state and local offices on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May. The 2013 law split off the presidential primary part and tethered that election to the date of the primary in South Carolina. The remaining primaries were left on the May date.

The proposed change would move just the presidential primary to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March; March 8 during the 2016 cycle. That would not coincide with the SEC primary -- a collection of other southern state presidential primaries -- on March 1. Instead, it would have North Carolina sharing a date with contests across the country in Michigan, Mississippi and Ohio and likely Idaho as well. Such a shift would also put North Carolina Republicans in the heart of the proportionality window. North Carolina law requires a proportional allocation of delegates, but RNC rules supersede those requirements when in conflict. For North Carolina, though, the RNC would require some form of proportional allocation before March 15.

Other notes:
  • This proposed shift is consistent with the resolution that has made the rounds at Republican County Conventions and other organization meetings recently. That resolution called on a later primary date that would not affect (the numbers in) the North Carolina Republican delegation to the national convention. It furthermore urged the North Carolina General Assembly to consider consolidating all the primaries in North Carolina on that later date (as has been the past practice in the Old North state, albeit in May). However, that resolution has opened the door to discussions across the state about whether it might be better for North Carolina Republicans to maximize the voice of the voters through a winner-take-all contests. The resolution does not call for a March 15 or later date, but that idea is out there. A March 8 primary would not allow such an allocation plan.
  • The bigger thing here is that this move has been expected for a while now. The shoe has finally dropped in the state House as expected. There is legislation to move the North Carolina primary to a firmer and permanent date, but as has been detailed in this space, a move of this sort is not something with which the state Senate seems to be onboard. The chambers have been at odds on this issue to some degree since the state Senate added, passed and forced on the state House an amendment affecting the presidential primary date on the last day of a special legislative session with the clock ticking. Overcoming two chambers at odds with each other over the scheduling of the presidential primary is still a significant roadblock to the North Carolina primary coming back into compliance with the national party delegate selection rules.
Until that is resolved, North Carolina is still the biggest threat to upturn the 2016 presidential primary calendar applecart.

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