Local News

Officials Debate Value, Timeliness Of N.C. Primary

Posted November 11, 2003 10:29 a.m. EST

— When it comes to determining who runs for president, the primary gives registered voters a voice in the process. But some people wonder if it is even necessary.

Next year, voters may ask whether the primary is worth taxpayer money.

Since 1972, North Carolina has combined presidential, state and local races into one primary. But if state lawmakers and judges get tangled in another redistricting fight, the primaries could split. That revives the debate over the timing and importance of people's votes in choosing presidential nominees.

By the time North Carolina voters go to the polls for next May's presidential primary, voters in 41 states already will have cast ballots.

"Often times, these primary races are decided by the time we go to vote," said Chris Heagarty, of the

North Carolina Center for Voter Education.

"People don't really have a choice."

In fact, North Carolina's primary has not made a real difference in choosing party nominees since Ronald Reagan won the state in 1980. Although a long list of Democrats jockey for the nomination, President George W. Bush has no primary competition.

Other states like Utah, Colorado, Kansas and Maine decided to scrap their primaries next year to save money. Now, with state lawmakers ready for another contentious round of redistricting, there's a chance state primaries could be delayed.

"It keeps coming back," Heagarty said. "It keeps plaguing us.

"We're a model for the nation about how not to do redistricting."

That means the presidential and state primaries would land on different days."

"I am aware of that conversation," said Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections.

Bartlett said splitting the presidential and state primaries would cost more time, energy, and taxpayer money.

"You're going to be 2-and-a-half or 3 million dollars over what it normally is," he said.

Although some may want to dump North Carolina's primary, others do not want to give up their vote, especially if North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is still in the running.

It is still too early to know whether the May 4 primary will go on as planned. Lawmakers said they hope to get redistricting resolved so the primaries won't be split.

Bartlett said he is ready for anything.

"We are preparing for a May 4 primary," he said. "However, we know that could be June, July, August, or at the latest, the first half of September."