Raleigh, N.C. — A bill backed by House leaders would move the state's presidential primary date from February to March, avoiding penalties from national party committees.
The state House approved the measure without debate on a vote of 111-1 Wednesday night.
In 2013, the legislature voted to split the state's presidential primary from its other primary elections. While the other primaries would remain in May, the presidential contest would move to February – one week after South Carolina's primary, which is one of the first in the nation.
At the time, backers said the move would help bring national attention to the state and make it "more relevant" in the selection of each party's presidential candidate. By the time of North Carolina's May primary, they argued, the races are almost always decided.
However, the national parties rejected the state's attempt to jump the primary line. The Republican National Committee threatened to take away all but 12 of the state's 72 delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention unless the state moved the date to after March 1, in accordance with party rules passed in 2012.
House Bill 457, which passed the House Elections Committee on Wednesday, would move the 2016 presidential primary from Feb. 23 to March 8.
Sponsor Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, a member of the Republican National Committee, said the change would mollify national parties "to make sure the people back home who want to be involved and attend and take part in the process can do so, while at the same time making sure North Carolina's voice is heard."
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, questioned the price tag for two primaries.
"The cost of operating a primary is about $5 million," Harrison said. "Now, we’re going to have two primaries. Who bears the cost?"
Lewis pointed out that the 2013 law had already created the split primary.
"What this bill does is get you out of trouble, is what it is," commented Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, adding that Democrats would also lose national delegates as a penalty for a February election. "I don’t think we have much of a choice."
The bill is expected to be heard on the House floor Wednesday afternoon.