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Primary Elections Controversy

Federal law now ensures that overseas military personnel and other citizens have the right to request, receive and return absentee ballots for federal elections on a timely basis. In particular, states are required to get absentee ballots out to those qualifying at least 45 days before the Nov. 6 general election next year.

While the presidential primary is scheduled by state law for April 24, congressional and local election primaries are scheduled for September 12. Since primary elections have rarely been certified and ballots printed and sent out more than several weeks before the general election, this makes it a near impossibility for many such ballots to be delivered and returned in time for the election by many overseas voters, including military personnel.

The New York State Assembly and Senate have been unable to pass a new law pushing up the primary dates. Senate Republicans want an August date, while Assembly Democrats, led by Speaker Sheldon Silver and supported by several good government groups, want a June date since many voters leave their regular homes for vacations in August and some voters would be disenfranchised.

In addition, New York law in the past provided for June primaries. Republicans are against June primaries because the legislature would still be in session and legislators would be required to campaign for reelection. This is a particular problem for the Republicans, who narrowly control the Senate.

A complicating factor is that the Justice Department has sued New York in order to force a change in the primary date to enable compliance with the law. In a recent hearing on the matter, Federal Judge Gary L. Sharpe indicated he will pick a date by December 27 and is leaning toward an August primary.

A June primary would seem to be the best choice, either by agreement in the legislature or judicial fiat, since it would make for maximum voter participation – which should be the overriding consideration.

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