Even-year primary elections would be held in early March starting in 2020 under a bill that passed the N.C. House Tuesday.
That would move the primary earlier in midterm election years. The primary for the 2018 election would remain in May.
Senate Bill 655 passed in a 71-46 vote and now returns to the Senate, which will vote on the House’s revised version. Only two Democrats supported the bill, and four Republicans voted no. The bill passed the Senate unanimously in April.
The Senate version of the bill called for the new date to take effect in 2018, but House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson proposed an amendment Tuesday to delay the change to the next presidential election in 2020. His amendment passed in a 114-1 vote.
“The stated purpose of the bill is to make North Carolina more relevant in the presidential primary process,” Jackson said. “We can accomplish that goal without getting this bill bogged down in redistricting.”
Jackson was referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s order Monday affirming a lower court’s rejection of North Carolina’s legislative districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The case now goes back to the lower court to reconsider whether the legislature must draw new districts and on what timeline. Jackson said keeping a May primary date in 2018 would allow more time for that process to be completed.
Starting in 2020, the bill would schedule even-year primaries for the Tuesday after the first Monday in March. The filing period for candidates would be held in December.
After holding May primaries for many presidential elections, North Carolina held a March primary last year in order to have a more influential role in the presidential nominating process. But to comply with the rules of the national political parties, the law setting the March date ties the primary to South Carolina’s primary date.
Rep. Bert Jones, a Reidsville Republican who presented the bill in the House, said North Carolina should have a more definitive date.
“Right now in statute, North Carolina’s primary date is tied to whatever the political parties in South Carolina decide to do,” Jones said. “I think it is good that we establish a date certain.”
But Jackson spoke out against the date change, voicing concerns about the impact on races at the state level. “We all know that moving the primary from May to March is going to make a much longer general election campaign,” he said, adding that “it will be good for the people in the industry ... not so good for the candidates.”
Jackson also worries that closing the filing period in December will make new candidates less likely to run for office.
“Moving the filing deadline to December is really an incumbent protection idea,” he said. “It’s not a partisan issue, but it does conflict with Christmas and Hannukah. The one time of year that’s nonpartisan in this country is December.”
If the Senate votes to support the House’s changes to the bill, it will go to Gov. Roy Cooper, who hasn’t said if he supports the date changes.