Voting In Rochester

Tina MacIntyre-Yee/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Primary Day Anomalies Likely To Affect Already-Low Voter Turnout

September 13, 2018 - 6:44 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- On this primary election night in New York, there are concerns about low turnout and election fatigue – particularly with the vote falling on a Thursday.

Jerry Goldfeder, an authority on election law, joined WCBS 880’s Steve Scott to discuss the anomalies this year and what they could mean for voter turnout.

“Ordinarily, we have our primary elections on Tuesday, but this past Tuesday was both Rosh Hashanah and September 11th – and when it's a Jewish holiday or any other kind of religious holiday, or when it's September 11th, we postpone our primary,” Goldfeder said. “This is not the first time it's on a Thursday, but it is unusual. And it's not great, because it confuses the voters who are not likely to vote in a primary anyway so it acts as a further obstacle.”

Still, the postponement was necessary, Goldfeder said.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers will be asked to head to the polls three different times this year. There was a federal primary in the spring, and the general election comes around in November.

Goldfeder said it is indeed hard to get people to come out to vote three times in a period of about five months.

“The reason we have one primary day for the congressional and one primary day for the state and statewides and the state legislature is because Albany could not agree on a date to have them both at the same time,” Goldfeder explained. “The Republicans wanted both to be sometime in August the Democrats want to the primary days to be in June, so the court said we're having our congressional primary in June, and the Legislature insisted on continuing its state and state legislative races in September.”

In years with a presidential election, including two years ago, New York voters have been asked to trudge to the polls four times.

“It's really a total mess, and the Legislature really ought to streamline the voting process so that there's one day for all the primaries and one day for the general election,” Goldfeder said.

This all comes on top of the fact that New York state typically has among the lowest voter turnout numbers in the country – especially in primaries.

“We don't make it easy,” Goldfeder said. “Many other states have early voting, mail-in ballots, no-excuse absentee voting. They make it easier for people to register. They make it easier for people to change their party affiliation from one to another. We have all these obstacles and Albany talks about it all the time.”

The problem persists as the state Assembly passes reforms, but the state Senate does not, Goldfeder said.

“So many other states make it easier, if we enacted these reforms I believe that our turnout rates would be higher at least that's the hope,” he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo – who is running to keep his seat Thursday – has talked about voting reforms. If there is a turnover in the state Senate – which is controlled by Republicans while the Assembly and the Executive Mansion are controlled by Democrats – things could change, but might not, Goldfeder said.

“If not, we have a charter revision commission in New York City that the City Council has created, and maybe they'll pass those election reforms just like we have campaign finance matching programs here in New York City even though we don't have in the rest of the state.,” he said. “Maybe if Albany doesn't do it, maybe the city charter revision commission will enact these reform so we can catch up to places like North Carolina and Oregon and California and other places that make it a lot easier for people to vote.”

Fordham University political science professor Christina Greer believes this is how power brokers want it.

“Well, I mean, I think that that’s unfortunately one of the institutional mechanisms, where you have elected officials, and, you know, their bureaucratic entities, making sure that it’s actually harder for New Yorkers to vote,” Greer told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell. “You know, the fact that we’re asking New York voters to come out in June and September and November signals to me that you’re actually not interested in high turnout.”

The big question is always who turns out. There is a wide divide this time around between the establishment and insurgents.