June 26: The Date Incumbents Don’t Want You to Know
Did you know the congressional primaries in New York were on June 26?
If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be alone. We’re used to them being in September, but they were moved up this year so the state would be in compliance with a federal law called the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.
Unfortunately, the new date hasn’t been very highly publicized.
When I attended the hearing on redistricting earlier this year, attorneys for the legislatures put forth an interesting argument. They argued one of the factors the court should consider when determining election logistics is “incumbency protection.” Because the judiciary looks to legislative intent when interpreting laws, the argument went, it should respect the legislators’ intent to protect incumbents. In other words, the court should protect incumbents because incumbents want to be protected.
The reason we were in court to begin with was because the legislators could not, or would not, work out the parameters themselves. When the period for petitioning to make it onto the ballot started, the district lines hadn’t yet been finalized. It’s very hard to petition voters of a district when you don’t know where the district is. Obviously, the delay favored incumbents: they have the means to get campaigns together in shorter amounts of time. Those who wanted to give voters another choice were handicapped. Given the anti-incumbent mood across the country and the incumbents’ own pleads for judicial favoritism, I don’t think many would disagree if I suggested the stalling was by design.
Now that New York has four election days this year – the presidential primaries, the congressional primaries, the local primaries, and the general elections – turnout is expected to be low. This is precisely what incumbents want. They know the more people who vote, the more likely they won’t be reelected. They would prefer if nobody but their core supporters knew when the elections were. It’s our job, as citizens who know democracy only works when the people get to choose, to get the word out.
I recently noted to a colleague that the incumbent in my primary race didn’t seem to be doing much campaigning. “Of course not,” he replied. “He’s not going to advertise your election for you.” What does it say when one candidate wants people to vote and the other seemingly does not? I’ll leave that to you. I just hope you’ll exercise your right to answer that question on June 26.