One of the little mentioned clauses of North Carolina’s new voter ID bill has sparked a conversation about the presidential primary and what role, if any, our state plays in the process.
The new law requires North Carolina to move the presidential primary from its traditional date in May to a few days after South Carolina holds its primary in 2016. In 2012, South Carolina held its presidential primary in January.
On one hand, there’s a logical argument to be made for the change.
North Carolina is the 10th-largest state in the country, and it has taken on a purple tint in recent elections, compared to the red state-blue state electoral map of the nation.
North Carolina voted for Barack Obama in 2008, the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976. It voted for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. So it’s hard to say we’re clearly red or clearly blue.
For those reasons, the state would seem a logical proving ground for primary candidates. As the calendar is structured now, the nominees for each party have long been decided by the time North Carolina voters go to the polls in May.
But moving the primary isn’t so simple. Both the national Democratic Party and national Republican Party have threatened penalties against the state if it follows through on the change.
In the past, the parties have taken away from the number of delegates allotted to other states that changed their primary dates without permission.
The change isn’t cheap either. Analysts estimate an early presidential primary would cost the state an extra $4 million. And the state still would maintain a May primary date for other races on the 2016 ballot. Having a separate presidential primary probably would dilute the turnout for the other primary races in May.
However the decision evolves, the change opens a needed conversation about the national primary system. The clout that early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire have seems out of proportion with the size and demographics of those states.
North Carolina aside, it’s time to have a discussion about the effectiveness of the primary process.