By Dave Fidlin | The Center Square
New Hampshire voters could cast primary ballots for fall partisan races three months earlier if a recently introduced bill advances this legislative cycle.
The House Election Law Committee on Tuesday held a hearing on House Bill 115, which proposes holding the fall primary election the second Tuesday in June, rather than the second Tuesday in September.
State Rep. Joe Sweeney, R-Salem, spoke to the bill and its rationale at the hearing. He is one of the bill’s primary sponsors.
“September primaries support the incumbent elected official, in whatever office that they hold,” Sweeney said.
New Hampshire holds one of the latest primaries for fall races in the U.S. — a point Sweeney raised in his testimony to the House panel.
“It only allows for a 7-week general election period that detracts from the ability of freshly minted party nominees and their challengers to campaign in a general election environment,” he said.
Reconsidering when New Hampshire holds its fall primary election has garnered bipartisan support in recent legislative cycles, Sweeney said.
Speaking to the reason behind the June proposal, Sweeney said July and August — in the thick of summertime vacations — present a challenge to voters and candidates alike who are not always engaged in politics.
By having a June primary, Sweeney said the results could give candidates advancing to November an opportunity to organize campaigns over a months-long period, once politics ramps back up, post-Labor Day.
Several other speakers weighed in on HB 115 during the committee’s brief hearing on the legislation.
State Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, expressed opposition to the bill. New Hampshire’s existing timeline, he said, has served the state well.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Durham said of HB 115. “I think the late primary is useful for incumbents. It gives them more time to prepare a campaign, more time to make a case.”
Patricia Lovejoy, a senior deputy in the New Hampshire Secretary of State office, also expressed opposition to the bill in its current form.
Speaking on behalf of the office, Lovejoy said there is support for a change in the current date, however.
“Our preference would be to move the election a couple of weeks earlier than what it is right now,” Lovejoy said, hinting at support for an August primary.
If the date is changed this legislative cycle, Lovejoy said the office is capable of making the pivot.
“If the decision is to move it to June, we will obviously be there to ensure the election is done well in June,” she said.
HB 115 remains in the House Election Law Committee for further review. It is due out by March 16.