ALBANY, N.Y. — Democrats in the state Assembly this week approved legislation that would set the state's primary date in June, matching a federal judge's order for holding Congressional primaries. But the fate of the bill is unclear in the Senate.
"It should be supported in the Senate. It's a $50 million hit on localities around the state to have two separate primaries," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D.
The primary date debate started in 2012 after a federal judge ruled Congressional and Senate primary votes should be held the fourth Tuesday in June in order to comply with the MOVE Act, which requires timely access to absentee ballots for military voters. When state lawmakers failed to agree on when to hold state and local elections, the result was two different primaries – which Senate Democrats do not want to repeat.
"If we don't do it in June then we'll wind up having another primary in September. It lowers voter turnout and it will cost $50 million," said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Minority Leader.
But Republicans have concerns about holding a primary the fourth Tuesday in June. GOP lawmakers in the Senate back an August primary in order to accommodate the legislative calendar. A June primary means petitions and other paperwork have to be dealt with in March, the height of the state budget season.
"The problem with June is you're going to have petitions, you're going to have primaries right when we're doing our budget," said Sen. Dean Skelos, R-Majority Leader.
Skelos says he's hopeful for a compromise.
In the meantime, at least one member of the Senate is already a declared candidate for Congress. Republican Lee Zeldin is running for Congressman Tim Bishop's seat on Long Island, and Democrat Adriano Espaillat is widely expected to run in a primary against Congressman Charles Rangel again.
In the past, campaigning for Congress has caused lawmakers to miss votes in Albany.
"If you look at the absentee rate of whether it was Assembly people or Senators dealing with Congressional primaries, it was horrible. I think there can be a compromise in August that fits the need of the federal judge," Skelos said.
For now, the federal primary is scheduled for June 22. The state's primary is still the second Tuesday in September.