North Carolina would retain its voice in the 2016 presidential election while preserving its clout at the national party conventions under a bill passed by the House in a 111-1 vote Wednesday night.
House Bill 457 would move the state’s presidential primary to March 8. The primary for state elections would remain in May.
Two years ago, lawmakers had moved the traditional May primary to immediately follow South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary, scheduled for February.
That threatened to run afoul of national party rules and cost North Carolina all but a dozen of its convention delegates. State GOP Chairman Claude Pope asked lawmakers to move the primary to March.
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The bill that would move it to March 8 was introduced by Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican who chairs the Election Committee and is a close ally of Speaker Tim Moore of Kings Mountain.
“This change is made to comply with the rules of the two major political parties,” Lewis said. “I have received letters and endorsements of support from both major parties.”
Adding a second election would cost the state up to $4 million, according to state elections officials. Mecklenburg Elections Director Michael Dickerson said it would cost the county an estimated $500,000.
Josh Putnam, an Appalachian State University political scientist and expert on the primary process, said the House action has been expected. “But the real point of obstruction is in the Senate,” he said. “The upper chamber will likely be the one to determine whether the North Carolina presidential primary moves.”
Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican and Senate leader on election issues, did not immediately say whether he supported the effort.
“We’re evaluating and looking at what’s in the best interest of our state,” he said Wednesday.
That could suggest a change of heart. In February, he said that GOP leaders planned to defend their primary schedule.