A Primary Position: An Op-Ed from State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk

January 06, 2014

An Op-Ed from State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk

The Amsterdam Recorder; January 6, 2014

If the State Legislature had an opportunity to vote for a bill that would save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year and also protect the voting rights of our military men and women serving overseas, you would think every State Senator would stand in support, right?

Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case with a measure I am sponsoring that would move Primary Election Day for State offices to coincide with the new Federal Primary Date in June.

Let me take a step back to explain. A Federal Judge in 2012 found that New York’s September Primary does not conform with the Military and Overseas Voting Act (MOVE Act) and could therefore jeopardize the voting rights of military members serving overseas.

The MOVE Act requires general election ballots to be mailed to citizens overseas, including deployed service people, no less than 45 days prior to a federal election. That time is needed in order to give adequate time for their ballots to be received back home and counted before the November General Election ballots are prepared and mailed.

The Federal Court’s decision resulted in the creation of a June Primary date for New York’s Congressional races. However, that decision by the Federal Court did not impact State elections. The State Legislature must take action to move our usual September Primary to conform to the MOVE Act.

Unfortunately, while the Assembly introduced legislation to move Primaries for State elections to June, the Senate refused to take action, resulting in two separate primary elections in New York last year.

For me, protecting the voting rights of our military members is reason enough to act. But when you also consider that consolidating the two Primary Day Elections would save local governments and taxpayer $50 million in every two-year election cycle, it’s hard to figure out why the Senate’s majority Coalition has refused to take action.

In addition to being extremely costly, having an unnecessary second Primary Day also leads to “voter fatigue” which means voter turnout decreases. That was evident in the run-off election for Public Advocate in NYC last year. Only one-third of the people who voted on Primary Day also voted in the run-off election three weeks later.  Having two separate Primaries in addition to the General Election would have the same effect.

Recently, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and I introduced common-sense legislation that would consolidate the Primary Elections for both State and Federal offices in June.  The measure would provide mandate relief to local governments and protect the voting rights of our military members serving overseas.

A wide range of advocates support the measure including the League of Women Voters, the NYS Association of Counties and the Election Commissioners’ Association.

The Senators opposing the measure say that a June Primary Day for State offices would interfere with the final weeks of the Legislative Session. Frankly, this is a ridiculous claim, because it is the legislative leaders themselves who develop the legislative calendar, which can easily be modified in order to accommodate a June Primary.

This may be a little less convenient for the politicians in Albany, but I think we should focus on saving money for taxpayers and ensuring our Military men and women the right to vote, not the convenience of politicians. It's time our public demanded the same.