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Vote timing protects incumbents Insiders set the rules, and make sure primary date helps them remain in office

Of the many ways New York's political establishment stacks the deck to protect itself, one of the least remarked upon is the annual exercise that the state's Republican and Democratic voters undertook last Tuesday: the primary election.

It's not the primary itself that is the problem; it's the timing. The New York primary comes less than two months before the November election, which gives challengers little chance of mounting a comprehensive, convincing campaign against an entrenched incumbent. It also limits their time to raise money as an endorsed candidate, and money is crucial.

In theory, of course, the timing leaves intraparty challengers a longer primary election season to try to unseat an incumbent, but those campaigns are rare. More to the point, September may indeed draw more voters than an earlier primary during winter weather or summer vacations.

But there's a problem. New York's history is to take every possible step to protect incumbents and party favorites: Member-item money that incumbents distribute like confetti in their districts; excessively complex ballot-access rules that benefit candidates with the party machinery at their disposal; incumbent-protective redistricting; and lax regulations on lobbying and campaign finance that allow incumbents to generate rivers of cash that discourage challengers from even suiting up.
Here's an idea: Let the state fix all those other problems and the primary date can be seen as acceptable. Until then, though, voters would be wise to view the late primary as just another way New York protects a wretched status quo.

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