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Boro Assembly members push to move Primary Day to June

Florence Arenas of Ridgewood signs in to vote. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Eight members of the state Assembly from Queens have signed on to a bill that would push Primary Day for state races from September to June to offset a new federal law that would force New York to hold separate primaries for Congress and the U.S. Senate.

The New York legislators want a single primary for state offices to be held the same day voters go to the polls to elect congressmen and their U.S. senators.

All of the state’s primaries, except for the presidential primary, which is scheduled for April, this year used to be held in September.

But the state has to comply with a federal law that ensures ballots will be sent to military personnel and Americans living abroad 45 days before the primary. The state was granted a waiver from the law in 2010 but not this year.

The Assembly bill, which does not have a sponsor in the state Senate, is sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) with eight Queens Assembly members signing on to the bill: Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), Michael DenDekker (D-Jackson Heights), Phil Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park), Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), Marge Markey (D-Maspeth), Grace Meng (D-Flushing), Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights).

Senate Republicans have not countered with their own bill, which is needed for a compromise, although Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) wants to hold the primaries in August, according to political observers.

Proponents of the legislation say it will save the state $50 million if enacted by having primary elections for Congress, U.S. Senate and state offices on the same day.

A spokesman for Lancman said consolidating the primaries will also increase voter turnout.

Moving up the date also means the political calendar would shrink, with the deadline for filing petitions to run for office due by April 16.

But the bill would also decrease the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot: 375 for the Assembly, down from 500, and 750 for the Senate, down from 1,000.

The federal law means the state can no longer hold primaries in September.

“The benefits of merging the federal non-presidential and state primaries are threefold: such a merger will ensure that military personnel and New Yorkers living abroad [have] an opportunity to vote, it will prevent New Yorkers from having to go out and vote in three separate primaries in 2012 and it also will save New York state approximately $50 million,” the sponsors of the bill wrote.

Miller said it is unfair to put a burden on taxpayers by holding three primary contests.

“It simply doesn’t make sense for local taxpayers to pay an extra $50 million to hold three primary elections and one general election in the same year,” he said. “We can’t underestimate the role that elections play in allowing Queens voters an opportunity to be heard. It is only practical to hold the state primary on the same day as the federal primary, allowing for a stronger and more cohesive voter participation.”

City primaries cannot be held in September anymore. The city is expected to change its primary date to the date set by the state.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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