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Why are presidential primaries not held on the same day nationwide?

During primary season, each state and sometimes each party does its own thing.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 2024 there will be another presidential election, but states are already gearing up for those primaries.

The Republican National Committee has confirmed that Iowa will be the first state to hold its primary election, and Democrats are looking to move South Carolina to be their first state primary. So why do states hold primaries on different days, anyhow? 

For general elections, federal law does mandate a specific day for balloting, which is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. However, during primary season, each state and sometimes each party does its own thing. 

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There are no federal provisions specifying dates for presidential primaries in the states. 

"National political parties, the democratic party can set the calendar of when political parties in the state will have their primaries," Dr. Bitzer said. 

Although in North Carolina, state law mandates that primaries be held on the first Tuesday in March. 

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"If the parties want to move north Carolina ahead of that, that would have to be, I think, some negotiation and some compromise between what the national parties want and what the state would allow," Dr. Bitzer said. 

Iowa and New Hampshire also have state laws in place requiring them to hold primaries before other states. 

"National political parties want to spread out the calendar of when the states go in order of their presidential primaries in particular, they want to spread it out, so the candidates have a chance to go to particular states campaign," Dr. Bitzer said. 

Bills have been proposed in congress more than 100 times since 1911 to have a specific primary day nationwide, but those bills never passed. Meantime many states want their primaries held first, so they can shape the presidential race early on. A study in the Journal of Political Economy showed voters in Iowa have five times the influence of voters who live in states with later primaries. Dr. Bitzer said the DNC should announce soon which state will go first for the Democratic primaries. 

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