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Queens Chronicle

New divide in Albany: state primary dates

NY Assembly Democrats seek late June; GOP Senate wants early Aug.

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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 8:30 am, Mon Feb 27, 2012.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to your polling place, Assembly Democrats and state Senate Republicans are divided over just when they should hold primaries for their seats.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has introduced a measure, A.9271-A, that would tie state law to a recent federal court decision setting the primary for congressional races on June 26, the fourth Tuesday of the month.

Primaries for Assembly and state Senate races are now scheduled for Sept. 11. The congressional races were moved by a federal judge last month to comply with federal laws saying that members of the armed forces serving overseas must receive their general election absentee ballots at least 80 days before Election Day to make sure they are counted.

Throw in the presidential primary day on April 24 and Election Day on Nov. 6 and some voters in the state could have to go to the polls four times this year.

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) said the change makes good common and financial sense.

“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,” Miller said in a statement issued by his office Tuesday. “We should be holding both state and federal primaries on the same day. This legislation is a smart, common sense solution.”

But Scott Reif, spokesman for Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-LI), said the Senate does not support the bill.

State office primaries are scheduled for Sept. 11. Some state officials have objected to moving the state primaries to June as it would force incumbents to campaign during the current legislative session, which ends on June 21.

“Simply put, it would disrupt legislative activity,” Reif said. “The final three months are the most critical one of the session. You’re trying to produce a budget and other activities.”

Reif said for Democrats in the Assembly, and particularly in New York City, the primary can be tantamount to election.

“They would spend their time focusing on raising money and seeking union endorsements rather than governing,” he said.

The federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act sets forth specific requirements for federal elections to accommodate citizens serving overseas in the military and others who are living abroad. But elections for state offices are not subject to the same requirements.

“It is only practical to hold the state primary on the same day as the federal primary, allowing for stronger and more cohesive voter participation,” Miller said.

But Reif said accommodating the soldiers and sailors overseas would require only that the Senate and Assembly find a mutual agreeable date before Aug. 18.

“We’d like a date in August,” he said.

To accommodate the move to June this year, the bill compresses the political calendar by altering deadlines for petition filing dates. The number of signatures required for state legislative and local offices would be reduced accordingly.The adjustments mirror those ordered by the court for federal offices.

The bill’s modified calendar would:

— Move the filing deadline for designating petitions in 2012 to April 16;

— Reduce the number of designating signatures required for an Assembly seat to 375, down from 500; and

— Require 750 designating signatures for a Senate seat, a reduction of 250 signatures.

Since the 2009 MOVE Act took effect, New York State’s primary for federal office has not been in compliance with federal law — New York’s primary date was incompatible with the strictures of the MOVE Act regarding transmission of ballots overseas. New York State was granted a waiver from MOVE Act compliance in 2010, but a similar request was denied for 2012.

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