Vermont Considers Moving Primary Date to the Same Day as New Hampshire

By Isabelle Dietz

Vermont may attempt to move the date of its presidential primary elections to coincide with New Hampshire’s primary. Bill 76, introduced by Vermont State Senator Anthony Pollina, its sponsor, “proposes to provide that Vermont hold its presidential primary on the same day as that of New Hampshire.” New Hampshire currently benefits in two ways from its first-in-the-nation presidential primary — it gets an early say in the Presidential Election’s political process and an economic boost from so much national attention. Both are incentives for Vermont to hold its primary on the same day as New Hampshire and thus reap the benefits.

“I think it would give Vermonters a louder voice in the early stages of choosing a presidential candidate and give us the ability to balance out the voices of our dear neighbors in New Hampshire,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Anthony Pollina, to the Associated Press.

However, not all of Vermont’s neighbors in its twin state New Hampshire see this primary move as a friendly one.

“It doesn’t sound too neighborly to me,” said Matthew Prince, a resident of Piermont, New Hampshire.

“The first-in-the-nation primary is part of New Hampshire’s identity. It would be like New Hampshire putting together a package of tax incentives targeted just to lure Ben and Jerry’s away from Vermont.“ He added that should Vermont follow through with the bill, Vermont’s actions would result in New Hampshire moving up its own primary date, and “a Christmas season primary seems a little ridiculous.”

If Vermont were to succeed in moving its primary ahead of, or up to, that of New Hampshire, New Hampshire law would technically be violated. Section 653:9 of New Hampshire’s statutes states, “The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a date selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous.”

As the section goes on to explain, “The purpose of this section is to protect the tradition of the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation presidential primary.”

“New Hampshire law gives the Secretary of State the authority to set the primary date in order to ensure it is before any similar event, and we will support his efforts to protect our first-in-the-nation presidential primary,” New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan said in a statement.

The presidential primary, in any other state, must be held at least seven days after New Hampshire’s according to New Hampshire law. This is why New Hampshire’s primary, which originally used to be in March, has been held in January for the past three primaries. New Hampshire has been fighting other states pushing for earlier primary dates for years.  Vermont may prove to be New Hampshire’s next challenger for early primaries.

New Hampshire receives a considerable amount of press for its first-in-the-nation presidential primary, as do the Iowa caucuses. Iowa has an earlier caucus, but that does not count as the first-in-the-nation because it is not a primary. All of the press visiting to cover the first primary means considerable tourist business, as they buy meals and stay in hotels across the state.

The first-in-the-nation presidential primary also may also impact politics nationally because of its early timing and press coverage. Candidates can gain or lose momentum after the first primary results come in. Because Vermont has a different political makeup than New Hampshire, it would change the impact of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, should it manage to have a primary at the same time as New Hampshire.

“I like the brand of Republicans that Vermont seems to elect,” Prince said.  “I think the Republican Party might end up with more candidates that are more electable nationally.   But the effect would be the opposite for Democrats.  My guess is that any winning VT primary winner would lean too far to the left to have national appeal.”

New Hampshire is a swing state, which perhaps makes it more of an exciting state hold primaries. However, as a swing state, New Hampshire already receives more press coverage and presidential candidate attention than Vermont.

There are speculations that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders may run as a presidential candidate, in which case, Vermont would have an added interest in the primaries.

Governor Peter Shumlin told the Associated Press that Pollina’s proposal was “an idea worth exploring.”

“Vermont deserves to have a stronger voice in the presidential selection process because Vermonters have extraordinary judgment,” Shumlin said.

“Let’s be honest. Folks in New Hampshire have been lining their pockets,” Shumlin said.

New Hampshire Governor Hassan feels differently.

“Our first-in-the-nation presidential primary is one of New Hampshire’s most cherished traditions, representing our vibrant and robust citizen-led democracy that makes the Granite State the perfect place to begin the presidential nominating process,” Hassan said.