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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Assembly Dems want primaries in June

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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 ordered that congressional primaries be held. Karen DeWitt has more.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

The judge ruled that the traditional primary date (the second Tuesday in September) violates the rights of some New York voters, because it does not leave enough time to process absentee ballots from overseas military before the general election in November.  

Silver says it’s simply too costly to hold three primaries when local governments 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 estimates that $50 million dollars would be saved.  

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 (low) 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 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's measure that legalized 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 so far he has not publicly tried to mediate the dispute between the two houses of legislature.

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