Eight months after signing legislation to consolidate the federal and state primary elections into one date, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a new idea: Merging the state's primary election with its presidential primary.
Cuomo's proposal, which was first reported by NY1 Thursday, would move the primary elections to February. Not only would that be a significant change for legislative races in New York, it would make the state's presidential primary one of the earliest in the country.
Dani Lever, Cuomo's communications director, clarified Friday that the governor thinks the "easiest solution" would be to hold the state and congressional primaries on April 28 — the date of the Democratic presidential primary.
"Governor Cuomo believes we should want as many voters to participate in the process as possible, and everything we have done since Democrats have taken full control in Albany has been to make it easier for people to vote, including enacting early voting," Lever said. "A state and congressional primary election held two months after a presidential primary is an unnecessary obstacle to voter participation."
Lever noted that at least 15 other states have a combined primary election date for presidential, federal and state races.
During a WAMC radio interview Friday morning, Cuomo argued that consolidating the primaries would save the state money and give it more influence in the Democratic presidential nominating process.
New York scheduled the Democratic presidential primary election for April 28, 2020, which is later in the calendar than Cuomo would like. He said the positioning makes the state "irrelevant as a matter of timing" because several other presidential primary elections will be held before New York's.
Cuomo also expressed frustration that the presidential candidates haven't discussed the cap on state and local tax deductions, a provision in the 2017 federal tax law that has been criticized by the governor. And he thinks the candidates could learn a lot from New York to address issues like climate change and gun violence.
"I want a robust debate and dialogue among the Democratic candidates that takes into consideration New York's issues," he said.
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There could be fiscal benefits to moving the primary elections, according to Cuomo. Holding the presidential primary and federal, state and local primary election on one date would save $20 million, he said.
Having a presidential primary date and a separate date for the legislative primary elections "obviously makes no sense," Cuomo contends. He believes, as a "matter of good government," that the two primary elections should be held on the same day.
There would be many hurdles to clear if Cuomo is serious about this proposal to consolidate the primary dates. For the presidential primary, New York risks losing delegates at the Democratic National Convention by moving the date. It would likely rankle the traditional early caucus and primary states, such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, that are much smaller than New York but are key battlegrounds in the presidential nominating process.
The state Legislature would need to pass a bill changing the primary election dates. There doesn't appear to be any interest in moving the elections. A spokesman for the state Senate Democrats said, "The calendar is set. There is no consideration to move the primaries."
Before this year, there were calls to change New York's election calendar. In 2012, the federal primary election was moved to June because of the state's failure to comply with the Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act — a law that ensures members of the military serving outside the U.S. can vote in elections.
While the primary date for federal races was moved, New York continued to hold its state and local primary election in September.
In 2016, New York held four elections: The presidential primary in April, the federal primary in June, the state and local primary in September and the general election in November. County election boards complained about the costs of the four elections.
This year, the state Legislature acted to change the primary election dates. The bill that Cuomo signed in January merged the federal primary with the state and local primary. The primary election will be held on the fourth Tuesday in June. There would continue to be a separate date for the presidential primary, which occurs every four years.