A fourth election next year wouldn't just be a pain for voters who would have to go to the polls one more time; it would also come at significant financial cost to those same civic-minded taxpayers, with a bill that could surpass $100,000 in each county.
“It absolutely does concern me,” said St. Lawrence County Democratic Election Commissioner Jennie H. Bacon.“We did not budget for a third primary.”
To comply with a federal law on mailing military ballots, the state could be forced by a federal court judge to move its September primary sometime before the third week in August. But it only has to do so for federal elections, like races for U.S. senators and congressmen. The state could keep its local primaries — state Senate and Assembly, for example — in September, with a congressional primary in mid-summer and the presidential primary in April. The general election in November would make four elections, and a significant financial burden on already cash-strapped counties.
But four elections remains only a hypothetical, as myriad interests duke it out in legislative and judicial chambers alike. Opinions are easy to come by; answers, not so much.
The 2011 primary in St. Lawrence, with only one county-wide vote, cost $42,425. The races in 2012 could be even more expensive.
“I would guess that they would be more costly,” Mrs. Bacon said.“When you have state legislators and the Assembly and the Senate, a lot of times you create county-wide primaries, or at least half the county.”
In Jefferson County, a third primary could mean a cost of more than $100,000, commissioners Sean M. Hennessey and Jerry O. Eaton said. Printing costs, part-time staff, trucks to haul the election equipment, truckers to drive the trucks. Pretty soon, you're talking about real money.
“I don't know what's going to happen,” said Mr. Eaton, the Republican commissioner.“This all hitting in a presidential and redistricting year really has created a perfect storm for things not happening.”
But even the election commissioners don't have the same primary date in mind, highlighting just how difficult it is to get all sides to agree on something.
Mrs. Bacon, for one, supports a combined federal and state primary sometime in July or August. Any earlier, and party rank-and-file members would be circulating petitions to get candidates on the ballot in the dead of winter. Mr. Eaton prefers June, as does the Election Commissioners' Association, which cites availability of poll sites and election inspectors in that month.
The Assembly Democratic leadership is said to support a June primary. Senate Republicans filed a brief last week in the federal court case between the Justice Department and the state requesting the court to force the state to have a primary on either Aug. 14 or Aug. 21, said James E. Reagen, spokesman for state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.
The chairmen of the Senate and Assembly elections committees did not respond to requests for comment.
Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said she has “no particular preference” on when the federal and state primaries should be held, just that they should be held on the same day.
“It's a tremendous burden on our local governments,” Mrs. Russell said.“It's just an example of another unfunded mandate.”
State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo is open to a separate state primary, but said that having a congressional primary on the same date as the presidential primary is one possibility.
“Costs are always a concern. But also, I think you need to ensure that you're doing things right in terms of governance and democracy,” he said.
Mr. Griffo said he opposes a June primary for state races; state legislators would be campaigning during the budget and legislative session, causing their undivided attention to stray during a pivotal time for state government.
“I have not given up on keeping everything in September,” Mr. Griffo said.