The 2020 primary election was going to be novel in New York even before COVID-19 reshaped the world.
The Empire State used to hold all its primaries in September. In 2012, however, a federal judge ruled that holding a September primary would make it difficult to issue absentee ballots to overseas military voters in time for the November general election, and so federal primary elections shifted to June of that year. The primaries for state offices remained a post-Labor Day thing, meaning dedicated voters had to come out to vote at least three times in even-numbered years (four times if there were a presidential primary).
In 2019, as part of a package of laws that introduced early voting and other reforms meant to improve voter engagement, all state primaries were shifted to June. So, 2020 was going to be the first time state legislative primaries occurred in summer’s first days rather than on the cusp of fall.
That shift combined with the first big tryout for early voting was going to make for an unpredictable Primary Day. Now, add the likely widespread use of absentee ballots in light of COVID-19, the way the pandemic has all but terminated traditional campaigning, the rescheduled presidential primary and the political tumult prompted by the slaying of George Floyd, and June 23 is shaping up to be an interesting experiment for democracy in New York State.
On the ballot this year are the presidential primary as well as races for Congress, State Senate, Assembly, judicial posts, Queens Borough President and a host of Democratic party positions. (Most of the races are only for registered Democrats to vote on, but there are other party primaries in some areas). It’s a crowded ballot, but in some ways a dry run for next year’s wide-open municipal elections, when term limits force a huge number of vacancies. And not to get ahead of ourselves, but 2022 could see primaries for statewide offices and U.S. Senate as well as the ones we’re seeing this year.
Ben Max and your reporter appeared on WNYC Thursday morning to break down some of the 2020 races we’re following. Hear us below.
For information on the races you can vote on, check out our voters’ guide.