Election officials raise concerns as primaries are rescheduled
ALBANY — New York voters will have two opportunities to vote in primary elections this year, after a series of legal battles invalidated the state Senate and congressional district maps and declared a new primary date was necessary as a result.
The first primary elections will be held as scheduled on June 28, when voters in the Democratic and Republican parties can head to their local polls and vote for governor, state Assembly seats and local races. On Aug. 23, voters will head to the polls for state Senate and congressional primaries.
North Country election officials said the requirement to hold another election this year will be a heavy lift, and an expensive undertaking that as of now will have to be borne by county taxpayers.
“The state, more specifically the Democrats, created this problem,” said Jefferson County’s Republican Election Commissioner Jude R. Seymour. “At present, they haven’t done anything to rectify the situation, to make us whole in terms of the spending that’s going to have to happen.”
Seymour said New York election officials are used to upheaval in the system, as this will be the sixth year in which the election rules or dates have been changed from the year prior. However, the additional costs of a second primary were simply not budgeted for in this year’s Board of Elections budget.
Seymour said he estimates Jefferson County will have to spend upward of $50,000 on the second primary in August, and he’s worried that the confusion of a second election will hurt turnout for both, generating a steep cost for relatively few people.
“Frankly it’s upsetting because I worry about voters getting confused about the two different primaries,” he said. “I worry about turnout being low for both because they’re not combined.”
The BOE recently mailed informational cards to county voters, giving them details on the upcoming June 28 primary. Mr. Seymour said he and his coworkers are working on how to notify voters of the Aug. 23 election.
St. Lawrence County Democratic Election Commissioner Jennie H. Bacon said they’re waiting to hear more details about the August primary before they know cost and logistics for the August primary.
“We haven’t really gotten rules and regulations, even a political calendar for that yet,” she said. “A lot of things are up in the air.”
She said they should know the new district lines for state Senate and Congress by May 20.
She said voters who have questions about eligibility or district information can contact the county Board of Elections. She is asking for patience from the public.
“We’re always happy to answer any questions,” she said. “Please be patient with us. We’re waiting for court rulings and orders to see what’s happening in August. We’re doing the best we can notifying people as quickly as possible. Things are changing quickly.”
The North Country’s congressional candidates who have seen their primary dates move didn’t seem too bothered by the news on Wednesday.
It has already been decided that candidates who successfully petitioned to appear on the ballot under the old congressional maps will be automatically eligible to appear on the ballot in one of the new districts.
However, new candidates will be able to petition to appear on the ballot as well, with a lower number of signatures than typically required, both for the congressional and state Senate races.
In New York’s 21st Congressional District, Democrats Matt Castelli and Matthew F. Putorti are competing for their party’s nomination to run against Congresswoman Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville.
Castelli’s campaign spokesperson said, as he is the party-endorsed candidate, he remains the clear frontrunner and is focused on defeating Congresswoman Stefanik in the general election.
Putorti said in a statement that he is also focused on defeating Congresswoman Stefanik, but added that the two primaries now scheduled will pose problems.
“These changes will ultimately lead to confusion for voters,” he said. “We will continue working to keep them informed and up to date on the process.”
In New York’s 24th Congressional District, which was initially drawn to include Jefferson County and Watertown in the same district as Niagara Falls and much of the Lake Ontario shoreline in the now-tossed maps, there are two candidates facing a primary in August.
Congressman Chris L. Jacobs, R-Orchard Park, is competing against Mario J. Fratto for the party’s nomination, and could face off against Democrat Steven Holden in the general election.
Congressman Jacobs did not return a request for comment by press time, but Mr. Fratto said he believes the additional time to run a primary campaign against Mr. Jacobs is a good thing.
“We believe that the later date in August will help us reach more people with our message of putting America First and holding RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) like Chris Jacobs accountable for their liberal voting record,” he said in a statement.
New York’s state Senate and congressional district maps are being redrawn by a court-appointed special master, and the results of those new maps should be announced before the end of May. Once announced, candidates will be able to declare their candidacies in the new districts and restart their campaigns before the Aug. 23 primary election.
— Watertown Daily Times reporter Andrew Gardner contributed to this report.