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N.Y. needs unified primary date

Monday, February 3, 2014
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We certainly agree with state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk and her fellow Democrats that New York state’s legislative and federal congressional primaries should be held on the same day. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be June 24, the day the federal primaries are now scheduled for, and the day that a bill sponsored by Tkaczyk would require.

Republicans and the Independent caucus with whom they control the Senate are refusing to go along, claiming that such an early primary date would disrupt the legislative session as candidates took time out to petition and politick.

Whatever their reasons, their refusal isn’t the end of the world. Another date can be chosen — as long as it complies with a federal law and federal court order designed to ensure that New York voters overseas, including military personnel, receive their absentee ballots for primary and general elections in time to send them back and have them counted. So said Gary Sharpe, the federal judge in charge of enforcing the order, as recently as Dec. 12, 2013.

New York’s legislative and congressional primaries used to be held in June, but were moved to mid-September in 1974. That left little time between the primary and the general election in early November, and put the state in conflict with a law passed by Congress in 2009 requiring that absentee ballots be mailed out 45 days before the election. The law was passed after 96,000 Americans overseas, including 17,000 military members, were disenfranchised during the 2008 presidential election.

When the Assembly and Senate couldn’t agree (what else is new?) on a primary date for congressional elections that would ensure the state was in compliance, the federal court stepped in and moved the date to the last week in June.

So, in 2012 the state had two primaries, one for federal congressional races in late June and another for state legislative races in mid-September (and a third, actually, the presidential primary in March). Two it will be again this year unless the Senate and Assembly agree on a unified primary date.

Having two primary dates is stupid. It’s confusing and a hardship for voters, discouraging turnout. And keeping the state legislative primary where it is in September runs the same risk of disenfranchising voters overseas in November. It’s also a huge waste of money, as much as $50 million for every two-year election cycle.

And it’s unnecessary. Judge Sharpe, both at the beginning and end of his order, reminded lawmakers that June 24 wasn’t written in stone, that nothing in the order prevented them from choosing a different date for the 2014 congressional primaries, as long as it complies with the federal law. That’s exactly what the Senate and Assembly should do — one day for both primaries, somewhere between June and September.

 
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