The decision to separate state and federal primary elections could cost county governments as much as $50 million every other year unless the state moves to combine the two again.
State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, has introduced legislation calling on the state to repay local governments for the estimated costs of the two primaries.
“It would relieve local governments of this unfunded mandate and put it on the state, where it belongs,” she said during a news conference Wednesday in Albany.
The state is scheduled to have federal primaries in June and state primaries in September. The federal primaries previously were held in September with the state primaries but were moved following a federal law passed in 2009 to ensure ballots from military voters overseas are counted.
The separate primary dates in 2014 are projected to cost Schenectady County more than $100,000, said Brian Quail, the county’s Democratic election commissioner. That additional cost is for poll workers, translators, printing ballots and other expenses required to set up a poll site. To cut back on spending, Quail said, the county has decreased the number of polling places from 80 in 2007 to 58 this year.
“It does help with less poll sites, and we make it more convenient for voters to pick better poll sites,” he said. “But it’s a moving target because we are constantly trying to make the cost for administering elections cheaper.”
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said the primaries would cost the county about $200,000. He said that burden would be placed on taxpayers.
“Where do I find $200,000? Now I have to run a primary in June and another one in September,” McCoy said. “So that will only come from one source — the taxpayers in Albany County.”
The Montgomery County Legislature unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday in support of Tkaczyk’s legislation. Chairman Tom Quackenbush said the additional cost comes while the county is working to reduce expenses and stabilize its property taxes.
“It is absolutely outrageous that we would have to pay for a second and unnecessary primary,” Quackenbush said.
Earlier this year, Tkaczyk co-sponsored the reintroduction of legislation to move state primary elections from September to June. The measure passed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly in 2012, but not the Republican-led Senate. At the time, senators argued the June primary would disrupt the state’s legislative calendar.
Tkaczyk said she is now looking for the state to pick up the additional costs, which she said would have been eliminated if the previous legislation became law.
“Some counties held three primary dates in 2012,” she said. “With continued failure to act, New York is facing two separate primary dates this year. If we can get this done this session, we should get it done.”