For the first time in four decades, New York voters will today trek to the polls for a June primary election to choose candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives.
And by all accounts, long lines at polling places will not prove a problem.
The unfamiliar scenario of a June primary – combined with relatively low-key campaigns for House and Senate posts – may keep turnout as low as 12 percent. In fact, Erie County Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr said his office is preparing for 20 percent turnout at the most.
"It's anybody's guess what turnout will be," Mohr said.
Still, an election is very much scheduled for today, with polls open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Erie County and noon to 9 p.m. in all other upstate counties.
Gaining the most attention is the contest in the new 27th Congressional District, pitting former Erie County Executive Chris Collins against Iraq War veteran David Bellavia for the right to challenge incumbent Democrat Kathleen C. Hochul in November.
Other contests include the three-way U.S. Senate race among Republicans featuring Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, Rep. Bob Turner of Queens and Manhattan attorney Wendy Long. They are competing for the right to face incumbent Democrat Kirsten E. Gillibrand in November.
One more contest, this one among Democrats, is under way in the new 23rd Congressional District. It features Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa, Ithaca lawyer Leslie Danks Burke and Owego lawyer and educator Melissa Dobson. They are vying for the right to challenge Republican Rep. Tom Reed.
Most observers say the low turnout also raises the possibility that even underdogs could pull out a victory when the polls close this evening.
Both sides in the 27th District contest have concentrated on encouraging voter turnout in any way possible, with the better-financed Collins sending out several mailings and advertising on radio in the eastern portion of the sprawling district, where the Clarence resident is not as well-known. But Bellavia has also counted on direct mail to publicize his candidacy.
Still, even those working closely with the Collins campaign – including Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy – recognize that all the quirks of the 2012 primary season will mean few actually will cast votes.
Langworthy hopes turnout will surpass the paltry 6 percent of the last primary election in April, when GOP candidates for president competed in a contest all but decided at that point for Mitt Romney.
"This has all the makings of a pretty low turnout primary," Langworthy said. "I hope it exceeds 10 percent."
The chairman noted, however, that while turnout for the Senate primary is predicted as low throughout the state, it may spike higher in the districts represented by Hochul and Reed because of some interest sparked by the House primaries.
The June primary results from legislation by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., passed last year. The 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act requires county boards of elections to make ballots available to military personnel and other people living outside the country 45 days prior to an election to give adequate time for return.
Because judicial nominating conventions occur in late September, about 20 days after the primary, finalized ballots for the November general election can't be printed in time to meet the terms.
That forced scheduling of the June primary, resulting in a total of three for 2012 – the presidential in April, today's congressional, and the state and local primary set for Sept. 13.
Mohr noted that the Erie County Board of Elections has initiated several moves to reduce the cost of staging three primaries. For today, he noted only one set of inspectors is assigned to each polling place.
He pointed to the polling place at St. Aloysius Parish in Springville as an example, where eight voting machines and 32 inspectors would normally be assigned. Today, four inspectors will oversee one machine at the polling place.
He said county vehicles are transporting voting terminals in another effort to save money. He estimated the cost of today's election at about $150,000.
In the new Hochul district, Collins and Bellavia will compete in all of Erie County except the cities of Buffalo, Tonawanda and Lackawanna, as well as the towns of Cheektowaga, West Seneca and parts of Amherst.
They also compete in all or parts of Niagara, Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, Wyoming, Ontario and Monroe counties.
The Reed district comprises all or part of 11 counties, including Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany.