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New Hampshire Senate votes to protect presidential primary

ballot box
Tumisu via Pixabay

New Hampshire's prominent place in the presidential nominating calendar would be enshrined in the state's constitution under a measure that won unanimous support Thursday in the state Senate.

If 60% of the House agrees, voters would be asked in November 2024 whether to add language to the constitution mirroring an existing state law that requires the primary to be held at least seven days before any similar contest. It was one of two bills passed by the Senate as a rebuke to the Democratic National Committee, which last month approved replacing the Iowa caucus with the South Carolina primary in the leadoff position in 2024 and having New Hampshire share the second slot with Nevada.

The shakeup, championed by President Joe Biden as a way to empower minority voters, has faced major pushback in New Hampshire from Republicans and Democrats alike.

"To think that any political party is going to lean on the elected officials in this state to give up our tradition, that is not going to happen," said Sen. Daryl Abbas, a Republican from Salem.

"We should be united on this because our elections are done the right way."

Sen. Rebecca Perkins-Kwoka, a Democrat from Portsmouth, agreed.

"The cornerstone of the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire is our high engagement of the populace in the process," she said. "What better way to reinforce that engagement than to ask the voters to decide whether our status of going first should be placed in our constitution?"

The second bill, which passed 13-10 along party lines, is aimed at the fallout New Hampshire could face if it ignores the DNC rules. It would require New Hampshire delegates to national conventions to be seated with complete voting rights. The penalties for states that move up without permission haven't been settled, but could include losing delegates.

All 10 Democrats voted against the bill, arguing that lawmakers shouldn't meddle in how parties select and seat delegates. The Republican National Committee penalized New Hampshire in 2008 and 2012 for holding the primary earlier than Feb. 1, but no one sought to pass such legislation then, said Sen. Donna Soucy, a Democrat from Manchester.

"Not only is this premature, it's unprecedented," she said. "We should be in unison about the primary, and we should let this other problem play itself out."

Republicans argued that not seating all delegates disenfranchises voters. Sen. Sharon Carson of Londonderry said she agreed that lawmakers should be united in protecting the primary itself but shouldn't stop there.

"I think my Republican colleagues want to take that a step further, and they want to protect our Democratic colleagues in this process," she said.