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Why does New York have multiple primary elections? NYCurious

New York has separate state and congressional primaries. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama

If you’re confused about New York’s primary election days, you’re not alone.

The state held a primary for congressional races in June, but there will be another primary Thursday, with races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, the state Senate and members of the Assembly, among others (for a full list, check the the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s Voter Guide).

State and congressional primary winners will then all be on the general election ballot in November.

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Having two separate elections led to confusion on June 26, with some residents wondering why they didn’t see names for prospective state senators on the ballot.

“Some people went to the polls on the 26th and were upset that I wasn’t on the ballot,” Alessandra Biaggi, a lawyer running for the state Senate in the Bronx and Westchester, said.

Julia Salazar, who is running for the Senate in Brooklyn, also had people asking why they couldn’t vote for her in June.

“People were coming into our campaign office in North Brooklyn that day and saying, ‘I Googled your name but it says you’re not on the ballot,’ ” she said. “There’s a lot of confusion when there’s both a federal and a state primary within a couple months of each other.”

To add to the complexity, the state primary is on a Thursday this year, rather than the customary Tuesday, because it originally fell on Rosh Hashanah.

Scroll down to learn more.

Why are there separate primary days in New York?

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Before 2012, the congressional and state primaries both took place in September. Separate votes happened after a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the primary date violated the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, which says overseas service members must get absentee ballots at least 45 days before a federal election to make sure the ballots can be sent back and counted in time.

A September primary didn’t allow enough time before the November general, so Northern District Chief Judge Gary Sharpe ruled that the congressional primary would be moved to the fourth Tuesday in June.

“It is unconscionable to send men and women overseas to preserve our democracy while simultaneously disenfranchising them while they are gone,” Sharpe wrote in his decision.

Though Sharpe ruled that June was best for the congressional primary, he said the state can select a different date and ensure that both federal and state primary votes happen on the same day. But legislators have been unable to agree on a shared date.

Democrats favor moving the state primary to June, as well, while Republicans prefer moving both primary elections to August, arguing that a state primary in June would conflict with the end of the legislative session.

In years when there was also a presidential election, like 2016 and 2012, there were three primaries in New York.

How do multiple primaries affect voter turnout?

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New York State already has some of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation, data show, and having multiple days for primaries only makes it harder for people to vote, said Chisun Lee, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.

“It’s more dates to remember and to arrange to be out of work for,” she said. “To many people, it likely wouldn’t make sense to have multiple primaries so it’s going to create voter confusion.”

Lee noted that there are other factors that contribute to the low voter turnout, including closed primaries, no early voting, relying on paper-based registration and no portable registration, which would mean voters don’t have to re-register if they move within the state.

How much does having multiple primaries cost?

The state Senate has estimated that if the state and congressional primaries were on the same day, the state could save about $25 million.

Do other states have multiple primaries?

New York is the only state with multiple primaries this year, but other states have occasionally separated primaries in the past.

“It’s certainly not the norm” to separate congressional and state primaries, Lee said.

When are the 2018 elections in New York?

Tuesday, June 26: Congressional primary

Thursday, Sept. 13: State primary

Tuesday, Nov. 6: General election