LITTLE ROCK — A bill to keep Arkansas’ primary in March was narrowly defeated Thursday in the Senate.
Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, said he plans to ask the Senate for another vote next week on Senate Bill 122, which failed in a 17-13 vote, falling one short of the 18 votes needed for passage in the 35-member Senate.
In 2015, the Legislature voted to move the state’s primary from May to the first Tuesday in March for the 2016 election cycle only. Stubblefield told senators Thursday his bill would make the switch to a March primary permanent.
“That’s changing from the promise made when it was passed the first time,” said Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock.
“Promise? I don’t remember making a promise,” Stubblefield said.
Stubblefield said the change in 2016 made the state relevant in the presidential primary and said keeping the primary in March would allow the state to continue to be relevant in future presidential primaries, although the next election his bill could apply to will be a midterm election.
Some senators raised concerns about having to campaign and ask volunteers to campaign in winter weather and creating campaign seasons that would last all year. Some advocated deciding the primary date on an election-by-election basis.
Stubblefield said later that one senator who voted against the bill told him he would vote for it if given a second chance. He said another senator who was not in the chamber Thursday has pledged to vote for the bill next week.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who supported the temporary change approved in 2015, told reporters Thursday, “I am concerned about a filing period in November, particularly whenever you are for the first time going to have four-year terms for our county officials. Our county elected officials and any candidates have to make decisions in November if we move it to a March date.”
Hutchinson said he is OK with letting the Legislature make the call, but “my personal preference would be to leave it in the May time frame.”