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Change in date for special election could alter race for NY-27

On the same day in June, Christopher L. Jacobs will appear on two separate ballots for the same 27th Congressional District seat – one in a special election to immediately fill the seat until Dec. 31, and one in the Republican primary to determine that party’s candidate in the November election to fill the seat Jan. 1.

That means some people will have the opportunity to vote for – or against – him twice in one day for the same seat.

It also means that Jacobs has lost the chance at what many observers said was likely to be an upper hand in the Republican primary.

Here’s why:

GOP leaders had chosen Jacobs to run against Democrat Nate McMurray in the special election, which had been scheduled for April 28 to fill the remainder of the term of Chris Collins, who resigned last fall after pleading guilty to an insider trading scheme.

Whoever won that election would have taken office immediately. Had Jacobs won, he would have headed into the Republican primary in June with the advantage of incumbency.

But on Saturday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the special election and the Democratic presidential primary would be moved to June 23 as part of the state’s precautions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Capitol Building is pictured on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)

"I don't think it's wise to bring a lot of people to one location to vote, a lot of people touching one doorknob, touching one pen ... so we are going to delay that" and reschedule for a date when congressional and state primaries were already scheduled, the governor said in his daily briefing on Saturday.

That means the special election and the Republican primary for the congressional seat both will be held on June 23 – and the seat will remain vacant until then. So Jacobs will not be heading into the primary as the incumbent. A spokesman for his campaign declined to comment.

The two Republicans running against him in the primary celebrated the change in date.

“It’s great news for my campaign,” Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. said. “My opponent was banking on running as an incumbent. Now that potential strength has evaporated.”

Beth A. Parlato, the former Darien town justice, has already locked down the Conservative Party’s backing in the general election.

“There will be no incumbent,” Parlato said. “The people of NY-27 will be able to choose who they want to represent them. I have always felt confident going into the primary. (Jacobs’) voting record is too liberal for the voters in NY-27.”

As far as the special election goes, McMurray noted that had it been held in April, the only other voting that day would have been in the Democratic presidential primary. That meant more Democrats than Republicans likely would have cast ballots in the congressional race, potentially giving him a leg up in the heavily Republican district.

Now, with the change in date, more Republicans will head to the polls to vote in the primary for the congressional seat, which will help offset what was likely to be a higher turnout of Democratic voters in the special election. At the same time, Jacobs will now have to contend with campaigning in both a special election and a primary at the same time, McMurray noted.

“I know that April 28 would have been a great date,” said McMurray, the former Grand Island town supervisor. “That doesn’t mean June is going to be bad.”

Erie County Republican election commissioner Ralph M. Mohr said the Board of Elections as of Saturday evening had not received an executive order from Cuomo changing the date of the special election, so he could not confirm that the new date was June 23.

If it is on June 23, as the governor said it will be, it’s likely to be one of the most confusing voting experiences that local residents have ever had.

Every voter living in the 27th District will be handed a ballot for the special election, between Jacobs and McMurray.

Those who are registered Republicans will be handed a second ballot, for the primary race for that seat – among Jacobs, Mychajliw and Parlato. Those who are registered Democrats will be handed a different second ballot, to vote in their party’s presidential primary.

“There’s going to be a fair amount of confusion among the public,” Mohr said.

This would not be the first time that both a special election to fill the remainder of a current term would be held the same day as a primary for a congressional seat, he said. That happened after Rep. Louise Slaughter died two years ago.

But this would be the first time that such a thing happened on the same day as a presidential primary, Mohr said.

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