NYS Exposed: Why does New York have two primary days?

September 12, 2018 06:36 AM

Thursday is primary day here in New York and if you're getting a sense of déjà vu, it's justified.

Only in New York does primary day come twice a year. 


On Thursday, you'll be asked to vote for the candidates you'd like to see win state and local races. 

However, back in June, you were asked to pick federal candidates. 

So, why aren't those primaries on the same day like in every other state? 

There's a debate over the date.  

"If you're confused about who, when, where and how... you're less likely to participate in the process," says Tim Kneeland, chair of the political science department at Nazareth College. 

And right now, the fact that New York has two separate primaries in addition to the general election means there's likely a lot of confusion.

That and, as Senator Rich Funke adds, "It's a giant waste of money, there's no question about it." 

Prior to 2012, the state and federal primaries were held together, but then the federal government sued. 

The lawsuit claimed that the September date wasn't giving overseas military personnel enough time to participate. 

The federal government won forcing New York to move the federal primary to the fourth Tuesday in June. 

The problem is New York lawmakers didn't move their own state primary back with it.  

Experts say two primaries cost taxpayers millions of dollars in additional costs and resources and likely contributes to lower voter turnout.

So, why doesn't the state align its primary? 

Some incumbent state lawmakers believe a June primary wouldn't give them enough time to campaign for re-election since they're typically still in session. 

"In June, we should be dealing not in politics. We should be dealing with what the public sent us there to do and that's policy and lawmaking. To be out campaigning on that time frame when we have a limited amount of time to get our business done, I don't think it's appropriate," says Senator Funke.  

The New York State Assembly, controlled by Democrats, has voted to move the state primary back to June but the New York State Senate, controlled by Republicans, won't agree.  

Senator Funke says it's less of a partisan issue and more of a geographical concern. 

"It becomes a little bit of a downstate/upstate issue as well because if you're downstate or a Democrat, you're elected to serve in New York City, you might have to campaign over a couple of blocks. If you're an upstate lawmaker, my district runs from Irondequoit down to Naples, it's a bit more of a challenge to campaign over that wide of an area," he says.

State Assemblyman Harry Bronson, a Democrat from Rochester agrees but says a combined June primary is what is in the best interest of the voters.

"That's a legit concern [about time to campaign] but I don't put that as a high priority. The reality is, I work every day for my constituents, so I'm hoping they know what I'm doing for them," he tells News10NBC. 

The Senate has offered a compromise of a joint August date but the back-and-forth has been going on for three election cycles now.  

If a deal isn't reached next year, things will only get more confusing.

"Come 2020, we'll actually have a presidential primary, usually in April, and then we would have a June primary for federal offices, a September primary for state offices and then of course, the general election in November. So, that would be four different days, four different sets of ballots," says Kneeland.


Jennifer Lewke

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