Sununu endorses moving state primary to June

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Mar. 13—CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu said the Legislature should move the state primary in 2026 from September up to June, rather than an election date change in August that is the preference of Secretary of State David Scanlan.

Sununu told reporters that moving the primary three months earlier would ensure the state kept strong voter turnout and it wouldn't disrupt the summer tourism season as an election in August would.

"This is New Hampshire. We are extremely busy during the summer months, and I just think you are going to get a much higher engagement in June," Sununu said.

New Hampshire's state primary on the second Tuesday of September every two years is one of the latest in the country.

Scanlan has told legislative leaders that the current date makes it a "tight fit" every two years for officials to get absentee ballots out to overseas and military voters at least 45 days before the vote as is required under federal law.

Both the House of Representatives and state Senate have approved competing bills on the topic.

The House voted to move this year's primary up three weeks to the third week in August (HB 115) and the Senate instead acted to delay any move until 2026 and hold the state primary in the future on the second Tuesday in June (SB 380).

Last week, Scanlan's office confirmed he preferred the August date, but Sununu said any change should be more significant than that.

"If you are trying to buy more time for the general election, give it a few more months not a couple of weeks," Sununu said.

In 2022, Sununu vetoed a bill that would have moved the state primary up a full month to earlier in August.

A former ski industry executive, Sununu said both business owners and residents find it hard to focus on elections weeks before Labor Day wraps up the summer season.

"We are too involved in our businesses; folks aren't paying attention to politics, they are just trying to keep their businesses going or enjoying their vacations," Sununu said.

During a public hearing on the June primary bill before the House Election Laws Committee, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, said the earlier date made more sense.

"The best benefit of the bill is the voter gets more information about all of the candidates," Lang said. "I think this still gives greater access to the voters for people who are going to come before them."

Some critics of the June primary point out this would move the candidate filing period to March.

They point out that is a busy time for local officials dealing with town meetings, while for state lawmakers, that is the month the House and Senate have to move hundreds of bills over from one branch to the other.

Last week, Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy of Manchester cast doubt on whether the Legislature could move quickly enough on the matter to make the change in time for the next election.

Senate Election Laws and Municipal Affairs Committee Chairman James Gray, R-Rochester, urged his colleagues in both parties to discuss the matter and soon decide if the Senate should stick with its earlier primary date bill or embrace the House's proposal.