Tonawanda News

February 19, 2014

CONFER: Move New York's primaries to June

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — In 2009, the federal government passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which mandated that the states have federal absentee ballots in the hands of overseas military personnel at least 45 days before an election, to ensure that their completed ballots could be received by local boards of elections in a timely fashion. This is meant to guarantee that the warriors’ voices are heard while they are off protecting those same rights for others. 

The MOVE Act has had an impact on primary elections nationwide, because states that had theirs in the fall – like New York with its second-Tuesday-after-Labor-Day date – could not meet federal standards. Once the outcomes of the primaries were known, the official regular election ballots would physically have to be in the hands of military personnel by the third week of September. Impossible.

In 2010, since state officials couldn’t get their act together to accommodate this rather simple and well-intentioned law, New York, along with four other states, was granted a waiver by the Department of Defense and held its federal primaries in September.

The feds weren’t so kind in 2012, when a federal judge stepped in and mandated a June federal primary in the Empire State. Because of the legislative impasse that led to that, New York voters participated in two primaries, one in June for federal elections and another in September for local and state elections. The exhausted voters then had to vote for the real deal in November.

Five years after the passage of the MOVE Act, we seem to be no further ahead. Because of the intent of the law (to allow access to the polls to our servicemen and women) and the cost (the bill for the extra primary was $50 million to New York taxpayers), Democratic leaders in the Assembly passed a bill earlier this year that would create a harmonized primary date, whereby state and local primaries would be held on the same June date as the federal primaries – the fourth Tuesday in June. That’s a logical premise, philosophically and fiscally sound.

But Republican leaders in the state Senate and the band of rogue Senate Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference want nothing to do with it. They want both the federal and state primaries to be held on the third Tuesday in August.

If that’s the GOP’s idea of a compromise, it’s a horrid one at best. The date is not really that far off from the current September primary and it’s one that sets up boards of election for non-compliance and potential lawsuits from the federal government (not to mention slighting of our armed forces).

The Republicans’ proclaimed reasons for their date are a stretch. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said a June primary would disrupt the final month of the legislative session in Albany. That’s a contorted way of implying that O’Mara and his peers are more interested in politicking than doing the peoples’ work, that there’s no way that they could do both.

Silly me, I thought results in the legislative chamber and in your district were the best way to ensure your job, not self-promoting showmanship on the airwaves and $100-a-plate dinners. But I guess O’Mara and his peers don’t see it that way. They would rather be out rubbing elbows than doing the job they are paid $79,500 (plus numerous stipends) to do.

The self-preservation doesn’t end there. The Senate plan, like our current September set-up, benefits those in power and would continue to be a key driver of an incumbency rate that normally exceeds 90 percent in the state legislature. 

Typically, incumbents remain uncontested in primaries because they have name recognition and the support of their party leaders. Why rock the boat?

Let’s hope the legislative head-butting ends soon and the Senate and Assembly come to an agreement. If they don’t, we will have a repeat of 2012: Two primaries, a $50 million bill and an election process that disrespects those protecting our nation and its interests abroad.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.