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Does NY really need to hold two separate primary dates? Voting advocates say no

Voting stations
Pat Bradley

A leading voting rights organization is questioning why New York is heading toward two separate primary voting dates in 2022, saying Governor Kathy Hochul and the Legislature could hold them on the same day.

New York is set to hold a primary election for statewide offices, including governor and attorney general, as well as for state Assembly seats, on June 28.

But primaries for congressional and state Senate seats will be held on August 23. Those primaries were postponed from June after the state’s highest court struck down the newly redrawn district lines for the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

The state Supreme Court judge in Steuben County, Patrick McAllister, determined that the August primary would leave enough time for a court-appointed special master to draw the new lines, and for new candidates who might decide to run in the revised districts to collect petitions to get on the ballot.

The League of Women Voters, along with the government reform group Citizens Union, say there’s no need to hold two separate primaries.

The League’s Erica Smitka says while the congressional and Senate primary dates can’t be moved, the statewide and Assembly primaries scheduled for June could be moved to August.

“Two primaries would be confusing, it would be inconvenient, more than that it would be expensive,” said Smitka. “In the interest of ensuring that we maintain a democratic process and get as many voters out to the polls as possible, we’re really strongly advocating for one primary in August. “

The State Board of Elections says it costs between $40 million and $60 million to run an election in New York. But a spokesperson, Jennifer Wilson, says the additional August primary may cost less than that, because there will not be a primary in every Senate and congressional district.

The League and Citizens Union have written a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders, asking them to move swiftly to consolidate the primaries. So far, no action has been taken.

Hochul, a Democrat, says she sees no reason to change the June primary date.

“I believe there’ll be statewide primaries still in June,” Hochul said on May 3. “That is the path it’s on right now.”

The governor believes altering the June date now would make things even more confusing for voters.

“At least there’s some clarity and certainty to the voters, who’ve been expecting this,” Hochul said.

Hochul could benefit politically from a June primary. She is ahead in the polls, and an earlier victory over her Democratic opponents could strengthen her hand in the general election in November.

The League’s Smitka says politics should not be a consideration.

“The bottom line is that we need to make it as simple and straightforward for voters as possible,” she said. “So that we can get people out to the polls.”

There’s a small chance that a court could still merge the primary voting dates. While Judge McAllister denied a request to consolidate the two primary dates into one, that decision could still be appealed.

There’s even a possibility there could be a fourth election day this year in at least two congressional districts. Hudson Valley Congressman Antonio Delgado, a Democrat, has been chosen by Hochul to be the state’s next lieutenant governor. Congressman Tom Reed, a Republican who represents a vast swath of western New York, the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier, resigned on May 10th. Reed, who is joining a lobbying firm, was involved in a sexual harassment scandal last year, and had said he did not plan on running for re-election.

Delgado has not yet resigned his congressional seat. He would need to do so in early to mid-June in order for a special election for his seat to coincide with the August 23rd primary.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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