It’s hard enough attracting voters to primaries, except in “big” votes like presidential elections. And when there’s two primaries in the same year, forget about it, not to mention the increased costs to the state!
That’s the situation New York state is in. Primaries for federal offices take place in June, but primaries for local offices and state offices take place in September. It’s been this way since 2010, when a court decided that under the terms of a new federal law, the September primary didn’t give enough time for military absentee ballots to be processed.
Now, state Assembly and Senate Democrats, backed by good-government groups, have instituted a bill for a joint primary in June. However, the bill is being stalled at the state Senate level by the Republican majority, which prefers a combined August primary.
Democrats say an August primary would result in a low turnout, since many people are on vacation. Republicans oppose a June primary because the Legislature is still in session in June, and state candidates couldn’t give their all to political campaigns.
Now, a City Council member, Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side), has introduced a resolution calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign into law bill A-8198, the Democratic Assembly bill, and for the Senate to pass and the governor to sign S-6204, the corresponding state Senate bill.
Kallos is still lining up support for his resolution, said his spokeswoman, Sarah Anders, but it’s likely that most Democrats, including those from Brooklyn, will support it. All in all, she said, a combined primary would save the state $50 million.
Neal Rosenstein, government reform coordinator of the New York Public Interest Research Group, pointed out that many years ago, New York State used to have a single June primary. A combined primary, he said, will lead to greater voter turnout. “Even if someone is only interested in the national election and not in local races, once he’s in the voting booth, he may decide to vote for the local elections, too.”
Jim Vogel, spokesperson for State Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-Red Hook-Fort Greene-Bedford-Stuyvesant), said that the current September local primary schedule is unsatisfactory because it leaves only six weeks until the November general election. Most people he’s spoken to, he said, prefer the combined June primary plan.
While the Assembly has approved the June plan, he said, in the Senate, Republican leader Dean Skelos, who represents the south shore of Nassau County, controls the process of introducing legislation onto the floor. Vogel added that the State Senate Republicans couldn’t block the Democratic bill without the support of the five-member Independent Democratic Conference.
One of the Independent Democrats, Diane Savino, represents a district that includes parts of southern Brooklyn as well as Staten Island.
Ashton Stewart, executive director of the League of Women Voters, called the legislation “extremely important.” He said that in addition to being confusing and a hardship for voters, having two primaries is a huge strain on the Board of Elections and its staff.
If the Democrats and Republicans do not agree on a date for a joint primary, the current two-primary system will remain as a default.