RALEIGH, N.C. — Both chambers of the General Assembly have agreed that they want to move up North Carolina’s future primary elections for president and statewide offices, but they may have to come up with a compromise about when that change would start.
The House on Tuesday voted nearly along party lines to approve a bill that would permanently move the primaries from May to March. But the 71-46 vote came after members agreed to delay the bill’s start date until 2020. Two months ago, the Senate unanimously approved the permanent change, starting in 2018.
The measure now returns to the Senate, where lawmakers must decide whether they want to accept the House amendment or force negotiations on a compromise.
The legislature shifted the state’s 2016 primary to March 15 in an attempt to wield more influence over the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, of Wake County, who proposed the amendment before later criticizing the bill, said that the delay would mean North Carolina could still accomplish its goal of being more relevant in the presidential primary without the bill getting “bogged down in any of the redistricting litigation and special elections and all the other issues that are now going on.”
Federal judges could still order special elections this fall for dozens of legislative races that have been determined to be racially gerrymandered. If the earlier primary schedule began in 2018 instead of 2020, candidates for General Assembly could have only a few weeks after a fall election to decide whether to run for re-election in 2018.
Another reason for the change is to sever the state’s connection to South Carolina’s primary date, according to Republican Sen. Andrew Brock of Mocksville, sponsor of the original bill. In South Carolina, political parties set the primary date, which is different from how North Carolina does it, Brock said.
It also means North Carolina’s primary date is tied to whatever South Carolina’s political parties decide to do, Rockingham County Republican Rep. Bert Jones said during the debate.
“I think it is good for our citizens that we establish a date certain and not just say, ‘Well, it will be in May unless South Carolina decides to do something differently,'” Jones said.
A March primary would also come with a December filing deadline, which means incumbents and potential candidates must decide sooner whether they’ll run. Jackson disagreed with the move, saying it conflicts with Christmas and Hanukkah.
“The one time of year it’s nonpartisan in this country is December,” Jackson argued. “It’s kind of the time of year we get away from partisan politics for the most part and now we’re going to have people filing for election, recruiting for elections and I just think that’s a bad idea.”