In the past, North Carolina held its primary election late in the season. But this year, voters will be heading to the polls on March 3, also known as Super Tuesday.
For the presidential nomination process, state primaries determine the allocation of delegates to vote for a candidate at the parties' conventions. These delegates decide who will be on the ballot for president in November.
“This year is the first year we are actually on Super Tuesday,” said Emily Hagstrom, an organizer for NextGen America. “About 75 percent of delegates will be allocated on Super Tuesday, so it’s important to be a part of that decision.”
Out of the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday, North Carolina is the fourth largest in terms of delegate allocation.
The dates for primary elections are decided by the states and the parties. Rules are in place that determine when states can hold their primary elections. Sarah Treul, an associate professor of political science at UNC, explained that such rules include Iowa holding the first caucus and New Hampshire holding the first primary election. In the past, certain states have not followed these rules, leading to them being penalized.
“The best example of this was the state of Michigan back in 2012, and perhaps Florida too for the Democratic Party,” Treul said. “They both held primaries that the party did not approve of, which meant that the delegates that were awarded in those states did not actually count toward the final count of the convention.”
North Carolina began discussing the possibility of moving up the election date in 2016. During the 2017-2018 session, the General Assembly passed a bill mandating that primary elections will be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March for all even-numbered election years, starting in 2019.
Treul said the political parties likely agreed to this change because North Carolina is a prominent swing state with important opinions on the future of the country. Going past the 2020 election, Treul said the earlier primary date has the capacity to be very beneficial to North Carolina voters.
“If you even also have that (candidates visiting the state) happen during the primary, then issues that are relevant to the state start to be more likely to appear on a presidential agenda or party platform and that’s certainly helpful to North Carolina,” Treul said.
Not only does the primary election have significance for the presidential election, but many local elections will also be taking place.
“It does favor incumbents to have an election so early because, particularly in local elections, the filing period was in December, and that gives people in local elections a lot less time to decide to run and then get their names out there before the big election,” Hagstrom said.
Natalie Murdock, the Durham County soil and water conservation district supervisor, is running for N.C. Senate and agrees the early election date poses challenges to local candidates.
“You don’t have as much time to be in the field, to canvas, to phone bank, to build up your volunteers," she said. "You’re on a compressed schedule, so it rewards people that really come in having their act together.”
When the General Assembly was discussing moving the primary up, they raised the idea of having two separate primaries — the presidential primary would be in early March while all local elections would be decided in early May. However, Hagstrom said counties typically cover the costs for elections, and having to host two elections in two months would not make sense financially.
With the primary election coming two months earlier than usual, there may be worries that voters are unprepared. Treul, however, is not worried about voter turnout.
“Though there might be some voters that miss it, I think it’s going to be made up for by the fact that having the earlier primary date, particularly for Democrats right now with an interesting presidential primary going on, will probably entice more people to turn out,” she said.
Hagstrom said the earlier primary date will give voters a greater sense of importance, which she hopes will take them to the polls. Especially for Democrats or unaffiliated voters, she said the opportunity to have more of a say in who the Democratic nominee for president is should drive people to vote.
In the Chapel Hill area, early voting begins on Feb. 13 and continues until Feb. 29. On March 3, on-campus residents can vote at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center.
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