In 2016, statewide voting in New York state took place five times: the presidential primary in April, the school budget and board election in May, the congressional primary in June, the state Legislature/local primary in September, and the November general election.
Not surprisingly, asking voters to come to polling places so many times in such a short period of time resulted in poor turnouts for a few of those elections.
Recognizing this, as well as the costs of running multiple elections, the state Legislature this year approved and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed voting reform legislation that consolidated the federal and state/local primaries into one voting day in June.
It was a common-sense move, but it came with some growing pains for county-level elections officials, political party committees and candidates, who saw their political calendars shifted significantly with little time to prepare. But they got through that process and now the general election is the full focus for the fall, and the calendar is set for the 2020 cycle.
At least that's what everybody thought until last week.
Eight months after signing legislation to consolidate the federal and state primary election…
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Cuomo, seemingly out of nowhere, began talking about a desire to combine the local/state/congressional primary into the president primary on April 28. "A state and congressional primary election held two months after a presidential primary is an unnecessary obstacle to voter participation," his communications director said in a statement issued Friday afternoon.
Conceptually, the governor makes a solid case. But it's a plan filled with logistical problems and potential negative consequences.
A sudden shifting of the political calendar for 2020 could result in fewer candidates running for office, especially challengers to state Legislature incumbents. It takes considerable work to get on a state Legislature primary ballot. Hundreds of signatures from party members must be gathered for petitions that are filed to run for office. That work would become more difficult — especially in upstate New York — in the early winter, which is when it would need to take place for an April primary.
There's also the issue of the state Legislature's session calendar. Senators and Assembly members who are focused on campaigning in the middle of the legislative session are apt to be less productive at the job of legislating.
Finally, Cuomo's plan is timed badly. Absent a special session of the Legislature to get this done, it's hard to imagine how Cuomo's consolidation proposal could come together in time for 2020. And that's a self-inflicted problem. If the governor felt strongly about this issue, he should have made sure that it got done this year when the comprehensive voting reform legislation was being hashed out.
The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Michelle Bowers, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.