Next week, voters across the state will head to the polls and cast votes for candidates running in primary contests for local and state offices.
Here in the Capital District, politics watchers will no doubt have observed this year’s races are particularly crowded. The imminent retirement of lawmakers such as Jack McEneny and Bob Reilly have triggered something of a scramble to fill their shoes — and the shoes of those of who will presumably be filling their shoes. Redistricting that has created an entirely new senate district locally has not helped to simplify things.
What’s wonderful about this upcoming contest is voters have a bevy of choices (in one assembly district, no fewer than six candidates will be on the Democratic ballot). Having a choice in representation, especially in a state known for stratospheric incumbency rates, is the cornerstone of the democratic process.
Well, some voters will have choices this year — if they belong to the right party, that is. New York State operates on a closed primary system, meaning only voters registered with a particular party may vote in the corresponding race.
On the face of things, this might seem a fair and equitable practice; the people invested in the party will get to choose the standard bearer. In reality, what more often happens is large swaths of the public are disenfranchised because the primary race ends up being the only contest that matters.
Take the race for Albany County district attorney, where Lee Kindlon is challenging incumbent David Soares. There are no other candidates as of yet in this overwhelmingly Democratic county. There are 196,000 registered voters in Albany County, 98,000 of them Democrats. Having a closed primary effectively cuts more than half of the voters out of the decision.
Let us not forget this system also cuts unaffiliated voters out of the loop entirely in primary season. In Albany County, there are nearly 42,000 of these. And voters discontented with the two major parties may well be dissuaded from joining a third party because they would be giving up an important primary vote.