fb-pixel Skip to main content

DNC votes to move first-in-the-nation primary from N.H. to S.C.

Under the new plan, the Granite State would vote second in 2024 — but only if it changes its laws to expand absentee voting and eliminate the statutory requirement that its primary be held first.

Joe Biden, then a candidate for president, campaigned in Concord, N.H., on Feb. 4, 2020. The Democratic National Committee voted Saturday to make South Carolina the party’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary for the 2024 cycle, instead of New Hampshire.DAVID DEGNER/NYT

The Democratic National Committee voted Saturday to give South Carolina the party’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary for the 2024 cycle, a move that New Hampshire’s Democratic leaders say is punitive and could make it more difficult to expand voting rights in the Granite State.

The DNC’s new presidential nominating calendar, which President Biden endorsed and the full DNC adopted on Saturday at a meeting in Philadelphia, would allow New Hampshire and Nevada to vote on Feb. 6, three days after South Carolina — but there are strings attached.

Under the DNC’s plan, New Hampshire would qualify for that shared, second-in-the-nation spot only if it changes its laws to expand absentee voting and eliminate the statutory requirement that its primary be held first. Such changes would require cooperation from Republican lawmakers, who hold majorities in both of the state’s legislative chambers.


State law requires New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, a Republican, to set the actual primary date seven days ahead of any other primary. Scanlan said in December that he would “absolutely not” collaborate on a primary calendar in which New Hampshire is not first.

“We are frustrated,” Joanne Dowdell, DNC member at-large for New Hampshire, told the committee, “because the DNC is set to punish us because we don’t have the ability to unilaterally change state law.”

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee, which recommended the new calendar late last year, knew that New Hampshire Democrats could not unilaterally comply with the stipulations being imposed.

“They knew that Republican leaders in the state would not bend to their will,” he said.

If it doesn’t comply with the DNC’s demands, then New Hampshire would not have DNC authorization to hold a primary before Super Tuesday in early March.

For decades, the presidential nominating calendar has kicked off with the Iowa caucuses, followed by New Hampshire’s primary. In 2020, Nevada, and South Carolina went third and fourth. States with early primaries have an outsize influence, since prospective candidates who struggle to raise money or gain political traction often drop out before visiting states that vote later.


The retail politicking that comes with New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary is deeply ingrained in the state’s political identity, as generations of Granite Staters have grown accustomed to seeing presidential candidates zigzag their state every four years.

The new calendar would have South Carolina hold its 2024 primary on Feb. 3, New Hampshire and Nevada (which will hold a primary instead of a caucus) on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13, and Michigan on Feb. 27. Many other states would vote on Super Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

Biden and his allies have said changing the location of the influential first-in-the-nation primary is part of an effort to reshape the Democratic presidential nominating process in a way that listens more closely to the voices of minority voters.

DNC Chair Jaime Harrison, a former Senate candidate from South Carolina, said the new schedule “allows the South to stand up, for our voices to be heard.”

Four of the five states that are at the front of Democrats’ new primary schedule are presidential battlegrounds, allowing the eventual party winner to lay groundwork in important general election locations. Michigan and Georgia both voted for Donald Trump in 2016 before flipping to Biden in 2020, the Associated Press reported.


But the revamped Democratic calendar could have little impact on who wins the 2024 nomination, since Biden is expected to seek reelection with no major primary challenger, and the DNC has already pledged to revisit the voting calendar before the 2028 presidential election. And while South Carolina, Nevada, and Michigan have met party requirements to join the DNC’s new top five, according to the Associated Press, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has said he’d be unwilling to change his state’s Democratic presidential primary without the GOP moving its primary, which hasn’t yet happened.

Bishop Leah D. Daughtry, at-large DNC member from New York, said on Saturday that she loves New Hampshire, having worked on the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire while she was a student at Dartmouth College.

“New Hampshire is one of my favorite places. I go every year, and I have the granite of New Hampshire in my muscles and in my brain,” Daughtry said.

“I’ve heard a lot about this being ‘punishment,’ that we’re attempting to ‘punish’ somebody,” Daughtry added. “This was not about punishment. This was about acknowledgment. Acknowledging that Black and Latino voters are the committed base of our party and deserve to have a say in the crafting of who our nominee is.”

New Hampshire Democrats, including all four members of the congressional delegation, have vowed to defy the DNC’s calendar and hold a first-in-the-nation primary with or without party authorization. That could prompt the DNC to impose penalties, such as reducing the delegate count for the state or candidates who campaign in New Hampshire.


Dowdell warned that if Biden chooses not to participate in New Hampshire’s primary, that could open a lane for an insurgent candidate to rise and achieve an embarrassing win against the incumbent president.

New Hampshire state Senate minority leader Donna Soucy told the DNC that efforts to force the state’s hand could backfire on legislative priorities as well.

“We strongly believe we have shown our commitment to expanding voting rights. … I believe that the DNC’s move to punish Democrats in our state will make it harder, not easier, to expand voting rights in the future,” Soucy said.

New Hampshire GOP Chairman Chris Ager responded to the DNC’s vote with a statement saying Biden is pushing to “retaliate” against New Hampshire primary voters who rejected him in 2020. Biden finished fifth in that contest.

“Punishing New Hampshire is a deeply flawed logic,” Ager said. “Instead, the DNC should listen to what Granite Staters were telling them — reject Joe Biden.”

“We look forward to welcoming all presidential candidates over the next 12 months and can hardly wait to deliver the state to Republicans in 2024,” he added. “For that, at least, we have the Democrats to thank.”

Steven Porter can be reached at steven.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterporter.