Not so fast North Carolina.
Last week Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed a sweeping new voter identification law in the Tar Heel state that also moved the state’s 2016 presidential primaries way ahead of the pack, setting up a showdown with both major political parties who are determined to bring order to the nominating process.
“The NCGOP is going to hear over and over again from the RNC about how North Carolina, under the new law, is going to get hammered by these new penalties,” said Davidson College professor Josh Putnam, who studies primary calendars and maintains the blog Frontloading HQ. “And they have a record of enforcement over the last two cycles to show as well.”
Under the rules of both the Democratic and Republican parties, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada are protected as the first states to hold primaries and caucuses. The new North Carolina law would tie that state’s primary date to the week after South Carolina votes, if voting takes place before March 15, violating the rules of both parties.
Under the Republican National Committee rules adopted at the convention last year, North Carolina would be subject to the “super penalty” — an increasing punishment designed after Florida jumped ahead of Nevada in 2012 that would reduce the state’s delegates to the national convention to nine from 55 in 2012. As a result of the adoption of the penalty, Florida moved its primary for 2016 to the first Tuesday in March — the first date that would avoid the penalty. The Democratic Party rules are more fluid, but in 2008 stripped Florida and Michigan of all their delegates for violating the sanctioned calendar, becoming another front in the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The Party restored 50 percent of the delegates by the convention.
This penalty might not stop North Carolina, which is seeking its share of the national spotlight and a portion of the tens of millions of dollars spent on early state campaign organizations and television ads, but it would remove the near-term incentive for a candidate to campaign in the state. Under the penalty, North Carolina would be reduced to as many delegates to the Republican convention as Guam.
The goal of the current party rules is to make the 2016 calendar decidedly more ordered — if not more fair — than previous years. The four carve-out states will have neatly spaced nominating contests, followed by a jumble of the other 46 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Many states still must set their primary dates, and even Iowa isn’t immune from the calendar jumble; the Democratic and Republican caucuses are currently scheduled for different days there. The system has drawn criticism from elections advocates for the largely unrepresentative demographics of the early states, and other states have long looked at the attention pouring into the early states with envy.
RNC members at the party’s meeting in Boston last week reaffirmed their support for the primary calendar after the passage of the North Carolina law. The party’s rules committee formed a subcommittee on the primary process to explore additional calendar reforms, including taking control of the debate process, but is expected to toughen the penalties on rule-breakers, if anything.
Democrats still haven’t met to discuss their 2016 rules, with that expected first in early 2014, but according to several DNC members, they see eye-to-eye with Republicans about punishing rule-breakers.
“[There is] a unified front of a semi-coordinated calendar structure and strengthened deterrence in the form of penalties,” Putnam said.