Congressional primaries and state primaries being held a few months apart not only carry an estimated $50 million expense to taxpayers, but have cost some voters their chance to be heard, prompting local lawmakers to call for an end to the redundancy.
Before becoming Albany County executive, Dan McCoy served in Iraq and did not vote in any election from 2005 to 2006. It was not his choice to opt out; the ballot simply didn’t reach him in time while he was overseas. In 2012, the federal Military Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act required the state to hold federal primaries in June to allow ballots to reach troops 45 days before the election. State elections, however, have not moved from September.
“I take pride … in voting and not missing a primary or general election,” McCoy said. “When I was overseas for 18 months, I didn’t vote two years back to back because I couldn’t get the ballot in time. Our Board of Elections couldn’t get it to me, so I lost on those two years.”
McCoy, D-Albany, said the separate primaries are also an added financial burden, totaling around $200,000 for municipalities countywide. Statewide, the cost is approximately $50 million for every two-year election cycle.
“I’ve got to put that on top of all the other bills that we have,” McCoy said. “We are trying to achieve a 2 percent property tax cap … another unfunded mandate like this does not help.”
Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, held a press conference Wednesday, Jan. 29, to highlight a bill she recently introduced, which would move state primaries to coincide with federal primaries. This year, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe ordered federal primaries to be held June 24.
“There are 11,000 active duty military men and women serving overseas who may not have their vote counted because the Senate’s coalition leadership has refused to consolidate our Primary Day elections,” Tkaczyk said. “Our state should not be in the unconscionable position of wasting 50 million taxpayer dollars and preventing military members from having their ballots counted.”
Tkaczyk’s legislation, if approved, also puts the onus on the state to cover “another wasteful mandate” if it fails to move state primaries to June 24. She previously co-sponsored legislation to have the primaries coincide, but her current bill attaches the state’s fiscal responsibility.
“I think maybe that will be a little inconvenient for the state, and then maybe the idea of putting these two dates together won’t be so onerous,” she said.
Rachel Bledi, Republican Albany County elections commissioner, said shifting the cost to the state does not provide any taxpayer relief.
“At the end of the day, taxpayers are still paying for it,” Bledi said.
Bledi, while agreeing federal and state primaries should be held on the same date, does not support moving state primaries to the end of June. She said Tkaczyk’s remarks are only setting back negotiations to move the primaries together on a different date, likely somewhere between late July and August.
“Her press conference, the tone, is really a setback. She hasn’t really mastered the art of compromise,” Bledi said. “She is sort of setting back any negotiations here that could be had.”
Tkaczyk blamed the Senate Republican and Independent Democratic conferences for failing to move state primary dates, with the Assembly previously passing such legislation. She also called claims that a June primary date conflicts with state lawmaker’s legislative calendar “ridiculous.”
“Think for a minute about those military service men and women overseas who are there are on our behalf. How disrespectful it is of us to send them ballots … and for them to know that their ballots aren’t even getting counted because they can’t get back in time,” Tkaczyk said.
She also said one primary date would lead to better voter turnout and with people more likely to become engaged in the process.
The state Election Commissioners Association recently approved its legislative agenda for this year supporting a unified primary date, but did not tie it to any date. Last year’s legislative agenda had supported the June date. The ECA is composed of Democrats and Republicans from across the state.
A later primary date is typically seen to favor incumbents over challengers because there is less time to campaign before the general election.
Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the state League of Women Voters, contended earlier primaries would be better for candidates and the public. She added that until 1976, they held state primaries in June.
Bartoletti said Senate Republicans offer “all kinds of interesting answers” for why shifting to June is not a good switch.
“The one thing that these people never seem to worry an awful lot about … are the voters themselves,” Bartoletti said. “At this point, I don’t care what the inconvenience is to the state legislators; my concern is that we in America have voters, and they should be the most important factor when we look at the right to vote.”