In letters, Democrats and Republicans reject DNC demands regarding first-in-the-nation primary

By: - January 5, 2023 11:43 am
State senators at press conference

Senate Republicans have made protecting the state’s first-in-the-nation primary a priorty this session. Sen. Regina Birdsell (left), a Hampstead Republican, will lead that effort. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

This story was updated on Jan. 5 at 3:45 p.m.

When the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee voted in December to recommend bumping New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary to second place, it also added a caveat. New Hampshire could get that second spot only if it changed its laws to expand absentee voting and eliminate the statutory requirement that its primary be held first. 

Legislative leaders and Gov. Chris Sununu had until Jan. 5 to write letters to the DNC declaring their intention to do so, the DNC committee stated. On Thursday, those leaders issued their response: No thank you.

“I regret to inform you that no legislator from any party has filed legislation that would comply with your outrageous demands,” wrote House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, an Auburn Republican. “Furthermore, given your overreach into state affairs, it is likely that any legislation pertaining to these demands would be met with fierce resistance.”

Delivering his inaugural address Thursday, Sununu blasted the requests, too.

“Mark my words, come next year Secretary of State Dave Scanlan will ensure that New Hampshire does remain the first-in-the-nation presidential primary,” Sununu said.

The reaction came after the Rules and Bylaws Committee voted Dec. 2 to recommend that South Carolina hold the first Democratic presidential primary in 2024 and that New Hampshire share the second position with Nevada a week later. In addition to making that recommendation, the committee also voted for a “waiver resolution” that required the state to “make any and all statutory and regulatory changes necessary” in order to “expand access to early voting,” such as through “no-excuse” absentee voting. 

If New Hampshire does not pass that legislation by Feb 1, 2023 – and also pass a law repealing the requirement that the secretary of state hold its primary first – the offer of second place would not apply, according to the committee’s proposal. In that case, New Hampshire would not have DNC authorization to hold a primary before March 5, 2024.

The committee asked for written commitments from Sununu, House Majority Leader Osborne, and Senate Majority Leader Sharon Carson that the state would do so. Passing legislation by Feb. 1 would require the House and Senate to vote to suspend rules to allow for a late bill submission and in order to fast-track it to the governor’s desk. 

Carson, a Londonderry Republican, also declined the suggestion. 

“Please be advised that New Hampshire law requires our state to hold our presidential primary election seven days or more before the date on which any other state holds a similar election,” Carson wrote in her own letter. “I do not intend to propose or support any change to our existing law.”

And in a press conference Wednesday, Senate Republicans included protecting the state’s first-in-the-nation primary among its top priorities this session. Senate President Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, has appointed Sen. Regina Birdsell, a Hampstead Republican, to lead that effort. She said Wednesday that she and Sen. Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican, will sponsor a resolution and a state constitutional amendment seeking to protect the tradition.

Sununu did not send a letter directly to the Rules and Bylaws Committee. But he did send one to New Hampshire Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy at Soucy’s request. 

“I have a message for them and President Biden – you can try to come and take it – but that is Never. Going. To. Happen. It’s just not in our DNA to take orders from Washington,” Sununu wrote, according to a copy of the letter distributed by the governor’s office Thursday. Speaking to the Bulletin, Soucy said the governor’s letter would be forwarded to the DNC by the New Hampshire Democratic Party. 

During his inaugural address, Sununu mocked the idea of South Carolina taking the lead position, noting that about 16 percent of the state’s registered voters participated in the Democratic presidential primary in 2020, compared to New Hampshire, which saw about 30 percent of registered voters participate in its primary. The governor also criticized the South Carolina Republican Party’s vote to cancel its primary in 2020, the year President Donald Trump was seeking re-election.

“That’s not democracy, it’s incumbent protection,” said Sununu. “And it’s something that New Hampshire will never engage in.”

Unlike other states, New Hampshire’s presidential primaries are required by state law and can’t be canceled by political parties.

Beyond its recommended requirements that New Hampshire change its voting laws, the Rules and Bylaws Committee also made a demand that the New Hampshire Democratic Party stop its practice of charging presidential candidates $100,000 in order to access the state’s coveted voter file. In order to get the DNC’s blessing for an early primary, the state party would need to lower that fee to $10,000 per candidate.

In his own letter to the Rules and Bylaws Committee Thursday, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley agreed to that change.

“If we are permitted to hold our primary in the early window, as Chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, I agree that the state party will offer base voter file access to all bona fide Democratic presidential campaigns during the Democratic presidential primary period for no more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) and without any other unreasonable requirements,” Buckley wrote.

But Buckley also spent much of his letter criticizing the DNC’s other demands as unreasonable given Republican control of the Legislature. He argued that New Hampshire already has high voter turnout compared to other states, and noted that Democrats in the state have attempted to expand absentee voting but have been blocked by Republicans. 

Buckley accused members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee of creating barriers that they knew couldn’t be overcome in order to force New Hampshire to abandon its early primary position.

“This is another area where the DNC’s requirements serve as nothing more than a seemingly deliberate poison pill for New Hampshire’s primary,” Buckley wrote. “New Hampshire Republicans, who control the governorship and both houses in the state legislature, have repeatedly shown their hostility to expanding voting laws.”

The Rules and Bylaws Committee’s recommended change in primary state order is not final; the full Democratic National Committee will meet Feb. 2-4 in Philadelphia and vote on the recommendation, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party said. The Rules and Bylaws Committee’s demands for New Hampshire are also not final unless the committee votes for it. 

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]