NC even-year primaries could be moved to March

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RALEIGH— The North Carolina House has passed a bill that would move even-year primary elections to early March beginning in 2020. 

This change would move the primary earlier in midterm election years, but the 2018 primary would remain in May. 

Senate Bill 655 passed the North Carolina Senate by a 71-46 vote in April, but was revised when it went to the House. 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 last Tuesday to make the change effective in 2020, which 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 in a separate interview. “We can accomplish that goal without getting this bill bogged down in redistricting.”

His reference his to the U.S. Supreme Court's order Monday affirming a lower's court rejection of North Carolina's legislative districts as unconstitutional due to racially-motivated gerrymandering. The case will go back to the lower court to reconsider whether the legislature must draw new districts and on what timeline. 

According to Rutherford County Board of Elections Director Debbie Bedford, the change could be positive for some people and negative for others. 

"A positive is that the primary date would be consistent," she said. 

She added that going back and forth between March and May makes it more confusing for voters. 

"The length of the political campaign time will be longer and it will require filing in December," said Bedford. "People will very quickly have to make the decision to file and run or to change their party."

She also discussed that western North Carolina counties had concerns about potential winter weather in March. 

"Things that some will consider negatives, others will consider positives," said Bedford. 

If the Senate passes the revised bill, the even-year primaries would be scheduled the Tuesday after the first Monday in March, with the filing period candidates being held in December. 

North Carolina held a March primary in 2016, 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 in a separate interview. “I think it is good that we establish a date certain.”

If the revised bill passes the Senate, it would then go to Gov. Roy Cooper, who has not made comments about his position on the date changes.