Saturday, February 4, 2012
N.Y. unlikely to meet election deadlines
By Joseph Spector, Gannett Albany Bureau Chief
A federal judge's ruling to set the congressional primaries for June 26 has turned New York's election calendar on its head, making it almost impossible for the state to meet the deadline without changing laws.
Legislators said Monday that the political calendar and the drawing of new district lines for state legislative and congressional seats this year makes it unlikely the state can comply with Judge Gary Sharpe's orders.
"I don't see how you can meet it," Sen. Thomas W. Libous, R-Binghamton, said.
The June 26 date also is complicated because Sharpe's ruling only dealt with the date for congressional primaries, not state legislative primaries.
So there's a potential scenario of three primaries this year -- the presidential primary April 24, the new June federal primary and the previously scheduled Sept. 11 primary for state offices.
Most Democrats and good-government groups want both the state and federal primaries held on June 26. Republicans have indicated they would prefer a September primary for state races.
"I would like to see the dates the same for the economics of it, but I just don't know if that date is possible," Assemblyman Bill Reilich, R-Greece, Monroe County, said. Reilich also heads the county Republican Committee.
Lawmakers said the June 26 date might be unfeasible for either state or federal races, and some officials warned that the tight schedule hurts having competitive elections.
Sharpe in his ruling did offer some wiggle room. He said New York could set another date if it reconciled its differences and met federal law.
A state task force is drawing district lines for all 213 legislative seats and 27 congressional seats. Preliminary lines for the legislative seats were released last week and were heavily criticized for being partisan to the parties in power.
Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, a co-chair of the task force, said Monday that congressional lines probably wouldn't be released publicly until early March.
So, he said, the earliest that the Legislature could approve the state and federal lines would be sometime in March.
If the lines are approved, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to veto them, likely leaving it to a judge to decide the lines.
But even if Cuomo didn't veto the proposed lines and a deal was struck, the election calendar would be so tight that meeting the June 26 date would be uncertain.
Lawmakers said they were considering changes to state law to meet the election date.
"Something has to give," McEneny said.
Once the district lines are approved, the U.S. Justice Department would have 60 days to review them and sign off -- taking the process into mid-May, at the earliest.
Then, political conventions would need to be held to designate candidates for election. A candidate would then have 37 days under state law to circulate petitions to get on the ballot or force a primary.
Election officials then would have to allocate 45 days to allow absentee and overseas ballots to be sent out and returned for the primaries.
Add it all up and the June 26 deadline could not be met.
Some lawmakers said they would like the Legislature to adopt new laws this year that would cut the petition process in half.
McEneny said it would also be helpful for the Justice Department to sign off on the lines -- whenever they are finished -- before 60 days elapse, something it hasn't done in the past.
"The one thing I hope they'll do for everybody -- party-designated candidates as well as challengers -- is to reduce the number of signatures" for petitions, said Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, Monroe County. Morelle heads the county Democratic committee.
Senate Elections Committee Chairman Thomas O'Mara, R-Big Flats, said he would prefer a later primary date for state legislative seats, which are two-year terms. The earlier the primaries, the more politics is at play involving decisions at the Capitol, he said.
"Whenever we move it up, we just lengthen the campaign time," O'Mara said.