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New June primary date prompts outreach by elections officials

For the first time in five decades, New Yorkers will trek to the polls without that hint of fall in the air as a new election calendar shifts primary elections into early summer – this year on June 25.

But elections officials fear few voters have inked that date into their calendars, especially since primary elections to determine party candidates for the general election have occurred in September ever since 1969. As a result, Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy J. Zellner on Monday began his effort to educate voters – especially those in Buffalo where several primary contests are slated – about the new date.

“This impacts city residents, especially our African American community and minority community," Zellner said of the June 25 primary date as he talked to reporters at the Board of Elections. "And we want to make sure everybody knows that and everybody understands that. In many cases, this is the election. There is not a Republican challenger in the fall.

“This hasn’t happened in 50 years,” he added.

More changes lie ahead for New York voters after the Democratic takeover of state government resulted in several election law changes enacted early this year. Early voting and other innovations are slated to begin for the November general election.

But for next week’s primary, traditionally the lowest turnout of a four-year cycle, Zellner remains concerned that turnout could yield even lower numbers this year because voters have not yet grasped the change in date.

Zellner explained the State Legislature moved in January for consolidating as many elections as possible to avoid confusion and save money. As a result, state and federal primaries will now all occur on June 25, although the 2020 presidential primary will still take place in April.

“We wanted to combine them into one date,” he said, noting petitions were being passed at this point under the old calendar. “We’ve moved up the process by three or four months.”

The commissioner noted that objections have been raised about the new system, ranging from passing petitions in the cold months to the need for volunteers to knock on doors in the dark.
“That very well may be, but everybody has to move up their calendar,” he said. “Any time you do something for the first time there will be glitches and matters of concern.”

Zellner added he would support more study by legislators to possibly move the petition process into later on the calendar so “it’s not dark at 5 o’clock.”

“I think the Legislature will take all that into account next year when they are looking to set the political calendar,” he said.

Still, the commissioner noted that the voting system in Erie County is expected to again run smoothly without the long lines and significant delays encountered in New York City and other large cities around the state.

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