Friday, April 29, 2016

Consolidate New York’s primaries

New Yorkers just came out of a contentious presidential primary election. We were burdened with weeks of advertisements on TV and radio while being subjected to countless rallies that showed more salesmanship than statesmanship.

On April 20th, many New Yorkers could be found wiping their brows and exclaiming, “phew! I’m glad that’s over!”

Not so fast -- voters in the Empire State still have two more primaries to contend with!

But, we shouldn’t.   

In 2009, the federal government passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act which mandated that the states have federal absentee ballots in the hands of overseas military personnel at least 45 days before an election, ensuring that their completed ballots could be received by local boards of elections in a timely fashion, guaranteeing that the warriors’ voices are heard while they are off protecting those same rights for others.

The MOVE Act has had an impact on primary elections nationwide, because states that had theirs in the fall – like New York with its second-Tuesday-after-Labor-Day date – could not meet federal standards. Once the outcomes of the primaries were known, the official regular election ballots would physically have to be in the hands of military personnel by the third week of September. Impossible.

In 2010, since state officials couldn’t get their act together to accommodate this rather simple and well-intentioned law, New York was granted a waiver by the Department of Defense and held its federal primaries in September.

The feds weren’t so kind in 2012 when a federal judge stepped in and mandated a June federal primary in the Empire State. Because of the legislative impasse that led to that, New York voters participated in 3 primaries – one in April for the presidential election, one in June for federal elections and another in September for local and state elections. The exhausted voters then had to vote for the real deal in November.

Almost seven years after the passage of the MOVE Act, we are no further ahead. Again this year we are saddled with 3 primaries. Because of the intent of the law (to allow access to the polls to our servicemen and women) and the cost (the bill for the each extra primary is $50 million to New York taxpayers), Democrat leaders in the Assembly again passed a bill this year that would create a harmonized primary date, whereby state and local primaries would be held on the same date as the federal primaries – the fourth Tuesday in June. That’s a logically, philosophically and fiscally sound premise.

But, Republican leaders in the state Senate and the band of rogue Senate Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference want nothing to do with it.  In the past they argued for both the federal and state primaries to be held on the third Tuesday in August. If that’s the GOP’s idea of a compromise, it’s a horrid one at best: That date is not really that far off from the current September primary and its one that sets-up boards of election for non-compliance and potential lawsuits from the federal government (not to mention slighting of our armed forces). 

The Republicans’ proclaimed reason for their date is a stretch. They’ve often said a June primary would disrupt the final month of the legislative session in Albany. That’s a contorted way of implying that they are more interested in politicking than doing the peoples’ work, that there’s no way that they could do both.

The self-preservation doesn’t end there. The Senate’s plan, like our current September set-up, benefits those in power and would continue to be a key driver of an incumbency rate that normally exceeds 90% in the state legislature. Typically, incumbents remain uncontested in primaries because they have name recognition and the support of their party leaders – why rock the boat? Challengers from other parties, on the other hand, aren’t afforded such a smooth ride. They typically square-off in primaries that drain finances and energy. With the conclusion of the September primary (or what could be an August primary), the victors don’t have the momentum or finances (both have been wiped out) to stage an all-out war against the incumbent in that two-month time frame. A June primary would put an end to that mess, and afford others an equal chance at office.

Let’s hope the legislative head-butting ends soon and the Senate and Assembly come to an agreement. If they don’t, we will have a repeat of 2012 and 2016 – 3 primaries, millions wasted, and an election process that disrespects those protecting our nation and its interests abroad.

From the 02 May 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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