By: Laura Wright
On September 24th, the North Carolina legislature passed House Bill 373 which, if signed by Governor Pat McRory, will move North Carolina’s presidential, state, and local primaries up from May to March 15th. Sponsored by Riddell (R), Whitmire (R), Brockman (D), and Iler (R), the bill passed with a 52-49 vote in the House and a 30-13 vote in the Senate.
With this move of the primary date come some other changes. The last day for candidates to submit their name to the primary ballot is December 16th. In order to get on the ballot, candidates must collect 10,000 signatures from qualified voters who are registered to the party of that candidate. These signatures must be verified at least 10 days before filing. For candidates wishing to get their name on the primary ballot, be they presidential, state-wide, or local, the clock is ticking.
The bill also stipulates that a candidate cannot file with a party unless that candidate has been affiliated with the party for at least 75 days. So for those candidates that are not yet affiliated, they have less than two weeks to establish affiliation, or they lose their opportunity to run in a primary.
While seemingly neutral on its face, the filing requirements of House Bill 373 arguably favor incumbents. New candidates who are running for office now have less time in which to campaign against incumbents. There is a greater strain on the “new on the scene” candidate to capture the required number of signatures in time for the December deadline so as to make it on to the primary ballot.
Looming large behind House Bill 373 are the new 2014 rules from the Republican National Committee. Under the new rules, states holding primaries between March 1st and March 14th will have their delegates doled out proportionately to the election results. This means that if candidate A receives 30% of the Republican primary votes, he will receive 30% of the state’s delegates at the Republican National Convention, and if candidate B receives only 15% of the vote, that candidate only gets 15% of the state’s delegates. States that hold their primaries after March 14th, however, use a winner-takes-all system. So as long as candidate A wins a plurality of the votes, A will get all of the state’s delegates at the convention.
It is no accident that North Carolina chose to move its primary to March 15th. Another new RNC rule awards additional delegates to states for Republican success in the recent Presidential, Senate, and House elections. As a result of this apportionment rule, and because North Carolina has been a very strong red state in recent elections, North Carolina has amassed an impressive 74 delegates. This is the sixth largest pool of delegates, behind California (172), Texas (155), Florida (99), New York (99), and Georgia (76). A Republican Presidential hopeful needs 1,235 delegates total to clinch the nomination. For more on delegate apportionment, see here and here.
North Carolina was previously plagued by the problems that come with a later primary – many candidates dropped out of the race, eliminating the ability for North Carolinian voters to nominate their candidate of choice. By the time May 8th primary in North Carolina came around, only four Republicans were left in the field, with Mitt Romney as the de-facto nominee. By moving up the primary election to March 15th, North Carolina assures its Republican voters that they can play a more influential role in the primary field. With a guaranteed pool of 74 votes, North Carolina is also now a very attractive venue for any Republican hopeful to pour his or her campaign energy into.
House Bill 373 acts to make North Carolinians’ votes more meaningful during the primaries, but at the cost of voters in other states. The RNC’s delegate apportionment rule helps curb the problem of front-loading by providing an incentive for states to hold primaries after March 15th. North Carolina’s decision to move primary day to March 15th instead of the earliest permitted date, February 5th, also known as “Tsunami Tuesday”, proves how well RNC’s new rule is working. But there is still the problem of how the rule affects campaign strategy. Candidates are incentivized to present campaigns that appeal to states with earlier primaries and large pools of delegates at the expense of other issues important to the nation as a whole.
As such, Bill 373 is good for North Carolinian voters – it gives them a greater voice to nominate the candidate of their choice – but also it exacerbates the front-loading problem at the national level.
For more information on the Republican National Committee Nominating Process, see here.