Friday, January 20, 2023

New Hampshire Senate Moves to Further Protect First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary with Constitutional Amendment

In a move to further legally enshrine the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, the New Hampshire state Senate has introduced a concurrent resolution to create a constitutional amendment.

The end goal of CACR 9 is to take the language of the existing statute -- "the secretary of state shall ensure that the presidential primary election be held seven or more days immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election" -- and elevate it to being a part of the Granite state's constitution. All 14 Senate Republicans and one Democratic representative have signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

This all makes perfect sense. There is little more actors in New Hampshire state government can do to protect the status the presidential primary in the Granite state. To a person, each elected official in the state already leans heavily on the current state law in any dispute with other states or most recently with national parties when they arise. A constitutional amendment provides a bit more symbolic heft, but in the grand scheme of things, state amendments can be overturned by federal courts just as state laws can be. As such, this exercise is one that is intended to give a New Hampshire audience the reassurance that something is being done to further buttress the state's first-in-the-nation status in the face of a recent threat. 

But the interesting thing about this proposed amendment is that the question of the first-in-the-nation protection would have to go before the voters of New Hampshire and the matter would not appear on the ballot until the November 2024 general election. 

The proposed Yes/No question to be on the ballot:
“Are you in favor of amending the second part of the constitution by inserting after article 68 a new article to read as follows: 
[Art.] 68-a [Presidential Primary Elections.] The secretary of state shall ensure that the presidential primary election be held seven or more days immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election.”
That this measure is being held until the November 2024 general election -- a presidential election year -- as opposed to some off-year election or primary, maximizes turnout. But that could be viewed as something of a gamble. There is, no doubt, majority support in New Hampshire for keeping the presidential primary first in the order under state law (or state constitution). One would assume that anyway. 

However, for this measure to ultimately be written into the New Hampshire constitution, it would not just have to attain a bare majority of support, it would have to hit a supermajority of two-thirds.1 Maybe that is a shoo-in. Or perhaps, after a prolonged battle over the primary's position with the Democratic National Committee, waged across two calendar years, enough of the electorate in the Granite state in November 2024 has had enough and opts "No," keeping the protection out of the constitution.

Alternatively, voters could be looking to not only punish President Biden, should he be the Democrats' standard bearer in 2024, for the calendar shake up but further protect the primary. That is definitely closer to where the New Hampshire legislators behind this measure see this going. And honestly, it is probably closer to where this would truly end up. But we do not know that for sure this far out from the 2024 election and with a host of other actions likely to take place between now and then. 

This legislation has been added to the updated 2024 presidential primary calendar

1 To be clear, this is a two-thirds majority of those voters who fill in an answer to the first-in-the-nation ballot question and not two-thirds of all voters who cast a ballot in November 2024. There may be some ballot roll-off from, say, the presidential line at the top of the ballot to the constitutional amendment further down. 


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