New Hampshire lawmakers are advancing a plan to move up the state's primary date to boost voter turnout and even the playing field for challengers.
House Bill 98, filed by Rep. Joe Alexander, R-Goffstown, would set the date as the second Tuesday in June. The House of Representatives approved the bill by a vote 195-174 of during a marathon three-day session last week.
Supporters say the move will boost voter turnout and provide a more even playing field for challengers running for state and local elected offices. They say the late primary date doesn't allow enough time for winning candidates to prepare for the general election.
“This simply doesn't allow enough time to for the prevailing candidate – especially in statewide and federal races – to switch gears from a contested primary race, gain the full support of the members of his or her own party, raise the necessary financial support, present herself or himself to the New Hampshire voters and win their support,” Rep. Fenton Groen, R-Rochester, said in remarks ahead of last Thursday's vote.
The measure also changes the beginning of the filing period for federal, state and county offices from the last Wednesday in May to the fourth Wednesday in April.
But Rep. Paul Bergeron, D-Nashua, argued those changes would create conflicts with town meetings and municipal elections, which are also held in the spring.
“While quite a few states hold their primaries in June, no New England state does, and the reason for that is pretty simple – the New England Town Meeting tradition,” Bergeron said in remarks. “It's not a good time of year to schedule filing times for state offices.”
While New Hampshire is known for its “first-in-the-nation” presidential primary, the state primary date – which has been held on the second Tuesday in September since 1910 – is one of the last in the nation. Only Rhode Island holds a later state primary.
Critics say the late primary favors incumbents because it gives challengers who win their party's nomination little time to prepare for the general election.
At least 31 other states – including Connecticut, Vermont and Florida – hold their state primaries in June, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who oversees the state's elections, opposes efforts to move the state primary date up in the calendar. He has suggested it would dampen voter turnout.
A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll in February showed that at least 86% of voters support moving the state's primary date to June.
The measure, which was previously approved by the House Election Laws Committee, now moves to the Senate for consideration.
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