Editorial: Keep the primaries in place … for now

Moving the presidential primary up and combining it with the congressional and legislative primaries would create a host of problems
Gov. Cuomo has suggested moving New York’s presidential primary up to February.
Gov. Cuomo has suggested moving New York’s presidential primary up to February.

By the time New York voters have their say in the selection of the candidates for president next year, it’s very possible the race will have effectively been decided and our votes will be meaningless.

New York’s Democratic presidential primary on April 28 falls after 34 of the 50 states have already voted, and on the same day that five other states vote. So only 10 states vote after us.

We do get in ahead of Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia, so that’s something (but not much).

New York has among the most delegates of all the states, yet is relegated to almost also-ran status in the presidential selection process.

Being at the front of the pack to help decide the nominee would give New York the political clout it’s been lacking and the influence it deserves as home to the nation’s largest city and as one of the nation’s oldest and most populous states.

So Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s idea to make our votes more relevant by moving the New York presidential primary up nearer to the beginning of the formal nomination process — perhaps in February along with Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — isn’t such a wild and crazy idea.

In addition to moving the primaries, the governor has suggested holding the primaries for Congress, state offices and local offices on the same day as the presidential primary.

Those primaries are now held on a separate date in late June.

This move, he says, will save taxpayers money and save voters the hassle of having to vote in two separate primaries just months apart. (More on that in a second.)

But moving the presidential primary up and combining it with the congressional and legislative primaries, particularly at this late date, would create a host of problems, and not just for the people who would have to organize and schedule these things.

If you look into this a bit, the governor’s motivations might not be as pure as they first appear. (Are they ever?)

Cuomo has made no secret of the fact that he favors former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.

Giving Biden New York’s big chunk of delegates earlier in the process would give his candidacy a big boost. That’s one reason the governor might favor the earlier schedule.

Besides making the primary process more efficient for voters, one reason the governor might favor combining the presidential primary and the state and national primaries is that he presides over a state in which both houses of the Legislature and all statewide offices are held by the governor’s political party, the Democrats.

So why should that matter?

Because moving up the primary this year would significantly shorten the amount of time non-incumbents would have to mount challenges, organize campaigns and raise money against incumbents. 

Challengers already face enough of an uphill battle in New York without having to expedite their organization and fund-raising.

Sure, incumbents would also be faced with the shorter calendar. But they can more easily and quickly ramp up their re-election campaigns because they already have name-recognition and they have their fund-raising and campaign organization structures already in place.

To qualify for an earlier primary, it’s possible challengers would have to start gathering petitions as early as next month. That would place them at an even more unfair disadvantage.

For those reasons alone, moving the primary up and combining them is unfair and undemocratic.

Another negative aspect of changing the calendar now is that it’s likely the Democratic National Committee would punish the state by stripping it of delegates.

Right now, the state stands to have the second-largest number of delegates to the Democratic convention, behind only California, due to bonus delegates the state has been awarded.

Those extra delegates could come in handy if the nomination is still undecided by the time delegates arrive in Milwaukee in June.

So New York’s influence at the convention could actually be diminished with an earlier vote. 

Then include the fact that in order to move the primary, the Legislature would have to come back to Albany for a special session to vote on it, something they’re always loathe to do.

In fact, the governor’s office released a statement late Friday afternoon saying that moving the primary was not “politically feasible at this point.”

But it seemed from the statement as if he hadn’t yet abandoned the idea of combining all the state’s primaries onto April 28.

The idea of moving up the presidential primary and combining the other primaries has many potential benefits, and the ideas need to be explored further.

But we’re already very deep into the 2020 political process.

Significantly shortening the timetable for challengers to mount effective campaigns — whether by moving up the presidential primary or consolidating the other primaries to coincide with the April 28 primary — would be a detriment to those challengers.

These insurgent campaigns need more notice than a change at this late date would give them.

The best course of action this year would be for the state to keep its existing primary dates in place and consider making changes in time for the next presidential election.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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