The Potential For Extra Primary Election Has Counties Scrambling

5:21 PM, Feb 17, 2012   |    comments
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By AARON SCHOLDER
Albany Bureau

ALBANY -- The possibility of an extra primary during this year's election season has counties in New York digging deep to find funding.

New York's counties and municipalities, some of which may have up to six elections including village and school board votes, will have to find the money within their budgets to pay for an additional election.

A federal judge earlier this month ruled that the congressional primaries must take place on June 26 to allow for enough time until the general election in November to allow absentee ballots to be received.

Counties receive no funding from the state to pay for elections and must use local taxpayer money to fund them. A presidential primary is already slated for April 24.

Assembly Democrats have proposed moving the date for state primaries, originally scheduled to be held Sept. 11, to the June date to make it easier on counties. But Republicans in the state Senate have not supported it.

The prospect of an extra primary has counties fuming.
"I think it's ridiculous," said Mary O'Dell, the deputy commissioner of elections in Chemung County, which would hold elections on four dates if the September primary isn't moved. "I see no benefit in it whatsoever. None. Not to mention, you're going to burn the voters out with voting. People don't want to go vote four times in a year, it's crazy."

O'Dell said the extra primary would cost the county about $70,000 on top of $70,000 for the presidential primary on April 24, $70,000 for the June 26 primary and $90,000 for November's general election.
"It's going to bust our budget," she said.

Senate Republicans said they believe moving the September primary to the June date would be disruptive to the legislative calendar.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said there is concern mainly regarding New York City legislators, for whom the primaries are often critical because the city is a Democratic stronghold. Reif said Senate Republicans prefer to hold the primaries for state offices in August.

"Our concern is that Democrats in the Senate and the Assembly will be too focused on raising money, seeking union endorsements and running for office rather than governing, as they were elected to do," Reif said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed the concerns of voters earlier this month at a meeting of the state Association of Counties.

"I don't think the taxpayers want to pay for three elections," Cuomo said. "I don't even think it serves the electoral process well. Who's going to come out? You'd have much lower turnout. Who's going to come out just for a congressional election?"

But Cuomo has not endorsed a date for the primaries.

In Monroe County, where Board of Elections Commissioner Peter Quinn said their costs would depend on which races are contested and the state's decision on the September primary.

Quinn said that a full slate of primaries would cost the county "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Most of the costs to counties come from having for election staff and to print ballots, as well as the transportation of voting machines, which Quinn said would cost $45,000 for each primary and $65,000 for printing. Quinn said the county pays election inspectors $10-an-hour.

"Those are big costs," Quinn said. "I think there are pros and cons to the different scenarios. I think the fact is consolidating the two primaries would give a financial benefit" to municipalities.

Broome County Deputy Elections Commissioner Karen Davis said the extra primary would cost the county $80,000, but that number could fluctuate depending on how many political parties decide to hold a primary.

"I do not see any benefit to it," said Davis, whose county pays $56,000 per election to pay 690 inspectors and $24,000 to eight technicians who make sure election machines run smoothly. "I do wish that they would find a date that satisfies both the federal mandate and whatever (state legislators) are looking for."

In Wayne County, Elections Commissioner Mark Alquist said his county would have to spend approximately $47,000 on an extra primary.

"It wasn't budgeted so it'd be a difficulty, a constraint," Alquist said. "It would be confusing to the voters. I would think they'd much rather just have the one day. I think it makes more sense to have it combined."

Some places, including the Hudson Valley and Buffalo, have to pay for additional election March 20 to fill vacant seats in the state Legislature.
Villages pay for their own elections, which are also largely slated for March 20. Schools pay for their own budget votes and school-board elections, which are slated for May 15.

Reif said it is possible the June 26 primary could be moved in accordance with the federal MOVE Act, which requires military and other citizens overseas to send in their ballots no later than 45 days before a federal election.

Moving the primary date would require an agreement between Cuomo and the Legislature.

"That's a discussion we're going to continue to have with the Assembly," Reif said.

Gannett Albany

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