North Carolina’s primary election date will move to March, thanks to a new bill signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory last week. House Bill 373 shifts the date of North Carolina state and local primaries two months earlier—to March 15 from May 15, which is the same day as presidential primaries. Republicans, who formed the majority of support for the bill, have cited economic efficiency and the potential for increased voter turnout in local elections as benefits. Critics say, however, that the legislation gives incumbents an advantage and makes it harder for new candidates to run. “Putting all of the other primaries on March 15 does save a lot of money,” John Aldrich, Pfizer-Pratt University professor of political science, said. “It costs millions of dollars to run statewide elections, even if they are primaries. He noted that the increased turnout supporters cite as a benefit may help some parties more than others, depending on which has a competitive presidential primary.
Despite the money it saves, critics say the bill disadvantages new candidates, who might find it hard to get their message out with two months fewer to campaign.
“Candidates have to decide very quickly now whether they have the means, the resources, the relationships, the organizational structure to run,” said George Eppsteiner, a staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “That may deter qualified candidates from running, which would dilute the quality of the elections pool.”
Another concern is the difficulty new candidates may face with the increased amount of time between primaries and the general election.
“[The increased time] can be a problem to make decisions—how they are going to fill up this time and what the nature of the campaign is going to be,” Aldrich said. “This advantages incumbents compared to challengers from outside of incumbency.”