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State Assembly introduces bill to hold all state primaries in June

The New York State Assembly has introduced a bill to hold all of the state’s primary elections on June 26th, to correspond with a court order requiring that congressional primary contests be held then.  So far, the State Senate wants to hold the state primaries on a separate date, in late August.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, has introduced a bill that would require all of the primaries for statewide elections in the Assembly and Senate held on June 26th. That’s the day that a federal judge has ordered that congressional primaries be held. The judge ruled that the traditional primary date of the second Tuesday in September violates the rights of some New York voters, because  does not leave enough time to process absentee ballots for overseas military before the general election in November.  

Silver says it’s simply too costly to hold three primaries when local government are strapped for cash. The Presidential primary will be held in April.    

“This is something that saves local government money, it eliminates unfunded mandates,” said Silver, who says it’s estimated that $50 million dollars would be saved. 

“It certainly makes sense,” said Silver.   

The bill is backed by the government reform group Common Cause. The group’s Sue Lerner says it would be “ridiculous” to have three different primary dates, and would guarantee that New Yorks’ “abysmally voter turnout would be even lower”.

“I think it’s a very good step,” said Lerner said, who said she hopes the State Senate “comes to its senses” and passes the bill as well.

Republicans, who are in charge of the Senate, take a different view. Senate Leader Dean Skelos says a primary in late June would disrupt the busy end of the legislative session. Most of the major bills are approved around then, including, last year, the measure legalizing same sex marriage.

Senator Skelos said recently that because so many of the primaries will be New York City based, it would be hard to conduct legislative business, and would create “chaos”.

“Shelly wont’ be able to get a quorum,” Skelos said.

Senate Republicans believe a primary date in late August would be better.

If the Senate does not agree to the June 26th date for state primaries, and the Assembly does not agree to an August date, then the primaries for state offices will revert back to the previously scheduled date, which falls on September 11th this year.

And even though the congressional primaries are now set for June 26th, the Assembly and Senate have not yet released new maps for congressional lines. New York will lose two congressional representatives, because the state’s population is not growing as fast as the rest of the nation.  But beyond that, not much is known about how the districts will be configured.

Lerner, with Common Cause, says time is growing short for any challengers to have enough time to gather petitions and run campaigns. She says the legislative task force on reapportionment, known as LATFOR, has become bogged down in “politics”.  

Lawmakers have already moved to shorten the time frame for gathering petitions, and have reduced the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot.

Lerner says the abbreviated time schedule is all due to LATFOR “dragging its feet”.

“There’s nothing magical about drawing the lines,” Lerner said.

She says Common Cause, using a computer program , was able to redesign the districts to conform to population shifts within a matter of hours.

The proposed new congressional lines are expected before the end of the month, and lawmakers could vote on them in early March.  

Governor Cuomo has said holding three primaries is “less than ideal”, and would be “very expensive” . But he so far has not publicly tried to mediate the dispute between the two houses of the legislature.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.