Lawmakers in the state Senate were surprised when the House voted Wednesday to hold off on agreement with a much-discussed plan to create two primary elections – the presidential primary in March and the statewide races in May.
House Republicans who are in the majority are discussing combining all the primary elections into the earlier March 15 date, saying it would save an estimated $4 million to $6 million by not holding a second primary.
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, said the concern about the extra cost had already been discussed.
He speculates that House Republicans have another agenda.
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Blue said he believes legislative Republicans might be nervous after the state Supreme Court heard arguments on the 2011 redistricting lawsuit Monday. The hearing was prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which raised concern about how districts have been drawn, specifically as it relates to creating districts with large numbers of black voters.
“There is a question as to whether a hidden motive is to try to get the filing period started early in case some court might want to enjoin the upcoming elections because of constitutional violations,” Blue said.
He added that this is also the first election where the new voter ID law will be in effect, and people have been told for years that they had until May 2016 to prepare for it.
“All of a sudden you are breaking the promise you made to all of the people that are trying to comply with these laws for voter ID and other substantial changes that have been made in the law,” Blue said.
Blue also questioned making changes now.
“The only advantage that I can see if there is some kind of nefarious reason for this is to try to get a jump on what some state and federal judges might say once they review these two pending cases,” Blue said. “That is a poor reason to monkey around with the primary machinery. You don’t change the rules in the middle of the game regardless of what the game is if you want to be fair.”
Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett Republican, is leading the effort to move up the presidential primary on the House side, and he said that is “absolutely not” the case.
“Unequivocally, the Supreme Court looking at the redistricting case was never considered,” Lewis said.
He made the motion not to concur with the Senate plan, he said, in order to fix a recently discovered technical error dealing with the number of early voting days. As for combining the primaries, this pause is just another opportunity some House lawmakers want to use to talk about it again.
Still, Lewis said he is in favor of the original plan for two separate primary dates.