Friday, December 16, 2011

Court to Rule on Primary Date

U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe indicated this week that he would reach a decision within the next few weeks on the date for New York’s primaries in a case involving the state’s compliance with the Federal MOVE Act. The MOVE Act was enacted to ensure that members of the military and other U.S. citizens abroad have the opportunity to receive and return absentee ballots on a timely basis.

The New York legislature failed again to pass legislation this session to change its September primary date to ensure compliance with the MOVE Act, which requires that absentee ballots be sent to voters overseas at least 45 days before a general election. In years past, the state was granted a waiver from the Department of Defense. This year however, the request for a waiver was denied.

A coalition of civic groups, including the Brennan Center, wrote Judge Sharpe urging him to favor a June primary. Senate Republicans on the other hand, arguing that since June is typically when the legislature wraps up its session, favor an August primary. Given that August is typically a month when many New Yorkers are on vacation, we believe that it would likely result in low turnout election. August is also the month when many students are going away to college. Moreover, if a there is a delay in certification of an election (due to either counting absentee ballots or litigation), there is a chance that an August primary may not allow enough time to comply with the MOVE Act.

The Election Commissioners’ Association of New York State has also come out in favor of a June primary. They have noted that many public schools used as polling sites are closed during the last two weeks in August and opening them up would result in an additional cost for local boards.

Given the legislature’s inaction, the matter will now rests in the hands of the court. We sincerely hope that Judge Sharpe will take these views into consideration when issuing his decision.

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