Arkansas Senate panel backs keeping March primary election

The primary election in Arkansas would be held in March rather than May in both presidential election years and nonpresidential election years under a bill that cleared an stater Senate committee Tuesday.

Without any audible dissents, Senate Bill 122 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, cleared the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. The bill, which wouldn't change the November general election date, goes to the full Senate.

The primary election was held March 1 last year -- rather than the traditional late May -- so that it would coincide with several Republican presidential primaries in Southern states. In 2015, the Republican-controlled Legislature and GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson enacted a law to temporarily move the primary to March 1.

Under SB122, candidate filing would take place the November before the primary. Also, any runoff that is needed would be held four weeks, instead of three, after the primary election date. The bill doesn't mention the nonpartisan judicial election, which is held at the same time as the primary.

Stubblefield said he wants to permanently move the primary election to March because "it worked so well the last time.

"I heard a lot of complaining about having to campaign in the winter [prior to the March 1 primary last year]. Then, I talked to them [candidates] later and they said it really wasn't that bad," Stubblefield said in an interview.

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He said he hasn't talked to Hutchison and state Republican Party officials about the bill.

"I think he'll be fine with it though. I really do," the state senator said of the governor.

Hutchinson "anticipated [the primary election] would move back to May, but, while that is his preference, he will defer to the Legislature on this issue," the governor's spokesman, J.R. Davis, said after the committee meeting.

The Republican Party of Arkansas doesn't have a position on the bill, party Chairman Doyle Webb said in an interview.

"We are recruiting county candidates no matter whether the filing period is in November or March," he said.

State Democratic Party Chairman Vince Insalaco said the Democratic Party opposes the legislation.

"Moving the Arkansas primary will shorten the time we have to recruit qualified candidates, interfere with the legislative session, and lengthen the overall campaign cycle," he said. "If the primary is moved, candidates must make the decision to run earlier; They must start fundraising earlier; incumbents must campaign when their focus should be entirely on the legislative session; and the campaign cycle would run from March through November instead of June through November," Insalaco said in a written statement.


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Under SB122, the primary election would be held on the Tuesday four weeks before the runoff election that would be conducted on the first Tuesday in April. Under existing state law, the primary election is required to be held on the Tuesday three weeks prior to the runoff election held on the second Tuesday in June preceding the general election.

The political parties' filing periods would begin at noon on the first Monday in November preceding the runoff election and end at noon on the seventh day thereafter. When the primary is in May, the filing period begins at noon a week prior to March 1 and ends at noon March 1.

A Section on 01/25/2017

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