As North Carolina lawmakers look to move up the presidential and statewide primary elections to March 15, everything election-related must move up with it, including the candidate filing period.
The state Senate proposed a plan Wednesday to hold the filing period from Dec. 1 through Dec. 21.
Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said there will be as much or more time for candidates to file with the board of elections and for the board to send out absentee ballots.
He proposed the plan during a Senate Rules Committee meeting, saying they would not take a vote yet but wanted input from committee members to include in the final conference report.
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The plan to combine all the primaries on one day will save the counties the estimated $7 to $10 million it would cost to hold a second primary, Rucho said. Lawmakers unanimously agreed originally to move the presidential primary election from May to March, attempting to make North Carolina more relevant on the national political stage.
“It moves us into a position where our vote really matters,” Rucho said.
Sen. Ralph Hise, a Madison County Republican, raised a concern about the greater likelihood of bad weather during an earlier primary election in March. Staff assured him that the State Board of Elections can leave the polls open an equivalent amount of time after any event if the polls are closed for any reason.
Senate Democrats questioned the motives of the Republican-led effort to move up all the statewide races. Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, said the cost of two primaries was considered before and the consensus was that the statewide campaigning that would take place between March and May would offset the costs.
“Our local and state economies could get all those dollars coming in,” McKissick said. “That was the logic when this last came up. That logic still stands. I would like to see us stick with that.”
Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, said moving the filing date gives people thinking about running for office less time to pull their campaigns together. He called it an “incumbent protection” bill.
Stein expressed concern that’s been voiced by other Senate Democrats, that the ongoing redistricting litigation also may have been a catalyst to move up the statewide primaries.
“The earlier we move this up the idea is that we are trying to lock in these districts for another cycle and hamstring the courts should they conclude, for whatever reason, that the districts should be redrawn,” Stein said.
Rucho responded saying that the legislature has rarely affected a judicial decision.
“If you also remember back in 2002, when the Democrat majority party had two or three occasions when they had unconstitutional maps, they actually stopped the election. So at any point, if that is a concern, the courts can manage that without any issue,” Rucho said.
Rules Chairman Sen. Tom Apodaca closed out the debate on the subject by saying: “If Stein and Newton (both running for attorney general) win their primaries, that will give them more TV time until November that we can all enjoy.”
Proposed earlier primary election time-line:
Dec. 1-21: Candidate filing period
Jan. 25: Absentee ballot for presidential primary ready
Feb. 19: Voter registration deadline
March 15: Combined presidential and statewide races primary election