Residents cast their ballots to vote in the 2012 General Election at Yorkville Community School located on 421 East 88th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan

Anthony Behar/Sipa USA

Why Is This Year's New York State Primary On A Thursday?

July 26, 2018 - 5:00 am
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Since the 1840s, Americans have cast their votes for federal, state and national elections on Tuesdays – but this year will be a rare exception in New York.

Following the normal calendar, New York State primaries would be held on Tuesday, Sept. 11, which marks the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – as well as the final evening of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Because of these conflicts, the legislature decided to move the election not to another Tuesday, but an odd Thursday, Sept. 13.

WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman spoke with veteran election lawyer Jerry Goldfeder to discuss this oddity.

"We are very sensitive to not having primary elections on high holy days,” Goldfeder said.

A main concern surrounding this change of date is voter turnout. New York State holds one of the lowest voter turnout rates.

Goldfeder is concerned that changing Election Day from Tuesday to Thursday will worsen the turnout percentage.

"[The change of day> is very confusing to voters, and will undoubtedly depress turnout,” Goldfeder said. "I hope I'm wrong, but it certainly looks that way.”

The lawyer explained that New York historically has a low voter turnout because federal and state primaries are not held on the same day – federal primary votes are cast in June and state elections are held in September. This dates back to 2012, when a judge ordered the federal election to be moved back to June because the Legislature couldn’t agree on an earlier date that would allow enough time for overseas voters to get their ballots in before the general.

The effects of a lower voter turnout? Incumbents will have a better chance of winning the election and holding their seats for another term.

"Voters are confused, fewer voters go to the polls, and that in it of itself benefits incumbents so the Legislature is really not motivated to do anything on their own,” Goldfeder said.

Experts say that moving the state primary to the June date would avoid the 9/11-Jewish holiday conflict and boost voter turnout, and would also save taxpayers at least $25 million in election fees. But Goldfeder does not see this switch occurring, because of the edge the September election gives incumbents.

"Unless there's real popular support for it, it's not going to happen, which is totally unfortunate,” Goldfeder said.