New York’s Three Primaries Cost Counties, Confuse Voters
By Maggie Clark, Staff Writer
New York State held a primary on Tuesday — not for the first time in 2012, and not for the last.
Bizarre as it sounds, New York is conducting three separate primary elections this year: for president in April, for Congress in June, and for state and local offices in September.
The spring, summer and fall contests have irked election administrators, who say multiple primaries are confusing to voters and wasteful to the local governments that must administer them. “This is definitely the worst it’s ever been,” said Onondaga County Election Commissioner Helen Kiggins Walsh, in an interview with WRVO Public Media in Syracuse. “We’ve never had a situation where they've separated the ballot and we've had different primaries. This is just insane.”
The election administration costs are borne by the counties, which were caught off guard by the requirement that they stage the same event three different times. “It will strain the budget,” said St. Lawrence County Elections Commissioner Jennie Bacon in an interview with North Country Now. “We didn’t plan for a third primary when we were planning our budget. Nobody did.”
In point of fact, presidential primaries traditionally have been separate from the others. But the stand-alone congressional primary was due largely to the federal MOVE Act of 2009, which provides protections for the votes of military personnel and citizens living overseas. The act requires federal primaries to be held at least 80 days before the general election.
To try and avoid the expense of multiple primaries, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sponsored a bill earlier this year to consolidate the state and local primaries with the June congressional primary. Silver estimated that this would save local governments about $50 million. The bill passed the Assembly, but the Senate failed to act on the measure. This left the state and local primary in September. Without action by the legislature, there will be three different primaries again in 2016.
One predictable consequence of the multiple primaries has been low turnout. Veteran Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel won renomination Tuesday in a contest that was hotly contested but drew only 12 percent of registered Democrats to the polls. Republicans held a primary for the U.S. Senate that attracted only five percent of eligible voters.