Defying DNC, state Senate passes unanimous resolution supporting first-in-the-nation primary

By: - February 9, 2023 5:49 pm

New Hampshire voters have been participating in the first-in-the-nation primary for more than a century. (Kate Brindley | New Hampshire Bulletin)

In a unanimous vote Thursday, the New Hampshire Senate affirmed its support for the state’s first-in-the-nation primary, passing a resolution 23-0 that clashed with the recently passed demands of the Democratic National Committee. 

Passed by voice vote with all but one senator present, Senate Resolution 1 advocates for New Hampshire’s position at the front of the calendar, less than a week after the DNC voted to request that the state accept second place instead. 

The resolution, proposed by Sen. Regina Birdsell, a Hampstead Republican, rebuffs the DNC’s request that New Hampshire lawmakers repeal the state law upholding the primary. 

The resolution states that the Legislature affirms “its confidence in the secretary of state to ensure that New Hampshire’s primary maintain its legal and proper status at least one week before any similar nominating contest.” Since 1975, the New Hampshire secretary of state has been required by law to schedule the primary at least a week out.

“In the past, we have always held bipartisan support as other states challenged our first in the nation status,” Birdsell said in a statement after the vote. “But today, the threat is not from other states, but from Washington. The National Democratic Committee would like to dictate to New Hampshire when they will allow us to hold our primary. But our primary is set by law, not by a political committee.” 

On Saturday, the full DNC approved a new presidential primary calendar that puts South Carolina as the first state to hold a primary, on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, and allows Nevada and New Hampshire to hold simultaneous primaries three days afterward, on Tuesday, Feb. 6. 

But the DNC also passed requirements for New Hampshire to meet in order to be approved for that second position. The state’s lawmakers must repeal the first-in-the-nation law and they must pass a law to expand absentee voting access in order to be approved for that position by the DNC. 

On Thursday, the New Hampshire Senate appeared to close the door on one part of those demands: the repeal of the law. The resolution cites New Hampshire’s role holding the first primary dating back to 1920, argues the state has become a “proving ground” for upstart candidates, and pushes back at “attempts by national political organizations to alter the presidential nominating calendar and dictate election laws.”

And while New Hampshire Democrats support expanding absentee voting, that demand is unlikely to be met under a Republican Legislature. 

After the vote Thursday, Senate Democrats issued a joint statement noting that when it comes to defending New Hampshire’s position in the primary, they stood with New Hampshire Republicans. 

“We look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues from across the aisle to protect our status of going first and ultimately protect the diverse array of candidates, from across the nation and the political spectrum, the New Hampshire primary creates and welcomes,” the statement reads. 

Secretary of State Dave Scanlan has vowed to follow the state law and hold the state’s Republican and Democratic primaries first regardless of the DNC’s requests. That likely means the New Hampshire Democratic primary will move ahead without DNC approval.

The DNC passed rules in 2022 outlining the penalties for a state holding an unsanctioned primary. Under those rules, any Democratic presidential candidate who visits the rogue state will not receive any delegates from that state at the convention, making any victory symbolic. And the delegate count in the rogue state itself would be reduced by half. 

The resolution Thursday addresses that scenario, stating: “That the general court expects all political parties to respect the results of New Hampshire’s first in the nation presidential primary by seating the delegates selected by New Hampshire voters at their national nominating conventions.”

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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.