By Cecilia Tkaczyk and Felix W. Ortiz, Commentary
March 25, 2014
What would New York City and the state's 57 counties do with their share of $50 million?
Provide housing assistance to victims of domestic violence?
Develop after-school or summer youth programs?
Provide low-interest loans to businesses to help them expand and create jobs?
Help senior citizens with transportation?
Or how about reduce property taxes or support community hospitals?
These are just some of the options that might be available to New York City and county officials if the state Senate and Assembly consolidated New York state's two primary elections to one.
But the Legislature has not resolved the issue and congressional candidates are now circulating nominating petitions. So, later this year New Yorkers will once again have two primary elections, one in June for the congressional races and another in September for state and local races. The cost to New York City and counties is enormous, as much as $50 million.
The roots of the problem go back to 2011, when a federal judge determined that New York was not in compliance with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act. The MOVE Act was enacted by Congress in 2009 to protect the rights of military members to vote in federal elections regardless of where they are stationed. It requires states to transmit absentee ballots to Americans working or serving in the military overseas no later than 45 days before a federal election.
The judge ordered New York to move its congressional primaries from September to June in order to comply with MOVE and to protect the voting rights of more than 43,000 New Yorkers overseas, including 11,000 on active military duty.
However, the federal court's decision does not affect state elections, meaning that the state Legislature would have to act to move the primary date for state primaries.
The Assembly passed legislation to consolidate the two primaries to the June date selected by the federal judge, but the Senate's leadership failed to address the issue, forcing the state to hold two separate primaries in 2012, in addition to the presidential primary.
Two years later that failure continues, and New York is once again facing two separate primaries this year. The enormous costs, which would be borne by county governments and their property taxpayers, constitute one of the most egregious and wasteful unfunded mandates ever perpetrated by the state.
With petitions already circulating, it appears the time to act has passed.
Recognizing that failure, it is sad to acknowledge that when it comes to state and local races this year, overseas military personnel and others working overseas may not have their votes counted. That insult is compounded by forcing local governments to pick up the cost. This is especially important now, when many of our county governments are under tremendous budgetary stress, and our property taxes are among the highest in the nation.
Our measure, (S.6417 / A.8740) would require the state to assume the costs for a second primary. It does not cure the failure, but at least it would place the financial accountability on the level of government that caused it.