Originally Published: June 24, 2014
Good government organization reveals 31 percent drop in voter turnout in 2012 compared to earlier years when primary elections were held simultaneously
Consolidated primaries will save state $50 million
In light of alarming and declining voter turnout when a separate primary election is held in June, Citizens Union today calls for one date in June for all primary elections to replace the separate June primary for federal elections and September primary for state offices. Primary elections for congressional offices are being held across the state today, but voter turnout is expected to be extremely low and may be even lower than the 2012 mark of 9.57 percent.
Even the much anticipated competitive primary between incumbent Congressman Charlie Rangel and challenger State Senator Adriano Espaillat expects few voters coming to the polls because New Yorkers are accustomed to turning out in September for primary elections. Before 2012, the state held federal and state primaries on the same day in September, but federal law now requires primaries be held earlier than September to enable military and overseas voters adequate time to receive and send back their ballots. For the second time in two years, the legislature failed to agree on a new unified primary date, and a judge ordered federal primaries to be held in June, while state and local primaries remain in September.
“Participation in our democracy is in a steep decline,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director at Citizens Union. “Voter turnout has been plummeting for decades, and rather than addressing this troubling trend, our state legislature has made matters worse by failing to agree on the same date for both federal and state primary elections. With too many elections, voters are increasingly checking out.”
According to an analysis by Citizens Union of voter turnout in New York State congressional primary elections, turnout for the June primary in 2012 was just 9.57 percent, a drop of 31 percent from the 13.87 percent turnout average for congressional elections from 2004 and 2010 when the consolidated federal and state primary was held in September. Even the Rangel-Espaillat race saw just 15 percent of voters turn out for the first faceoff between the two candidates in 2012, which was actually 3 percent lower than that in 2010, when Rangel faced a less formidable challenger in Adam Clayton Powell IV. In total, 2012 congressional primary elections, when held separately in June, experienced a 41 percent decline in participation from 2010. The Citizens Union analysis, while not scientific, suggests what other research studies have shown in relation to consolidating elections: turnout rises significantly when elections are held concurrently.
Citizens Union also backs a June primary for both federal and local elections because it will save taxpayers $50 million every two years, an opinion shared by the state’s Elections Commissioners’ Association (ECA). Citizens Union shares the ECA’s view that election administration will be eased by a June primary that will make it easier on schools that serve as poll sites and to recruit poll workers while freeing up more time for other important election-related tasks like voter registration.
In addition to consolidating the primaries in June, Citizens Union is also recommending the legislative calendar be adjusted, with session ending at least two weeks earlier to allow for elected officials to campaign in their districts and to avoid a scenario in which legislating and campaigning occur simultaneously just before an election.