By John Caher, The New York Law Journal, 30th January, 2012.
New York State's inability to muster "the political will" to comply with federal law and set a date for non-presidential primaries that does not disenfranchise military personnel has prompted a federal judge to step in. Northern District Judge Gary L. Sharpe acknowledged that the federal courts are normally loathe to interfere in state election schemes. But he said New York's inability to comply left him no choice. "If federally-guaranteed voting rights are to be protected, the court must act," Judge Sharpe said in a Jan. 27, 2012, opinion.
United States vs. New York, 1:10-cv-1214, centers on the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 1986, which guarantees military families and other citizens living overseas the right "to vote by absentee ballot in general, special, primary and runoff elections for Federal office." With a statutory primary date in early September, absentee ballots for the general election cannot be sent out 45 days before Election Day, as required under the federal law.
Judge Sharpe noted that New York was granted a "hardship waiver" for the 2010 election and promised to transmit ballots by Oct. 1, 2010. But the state is still not in compliance because lawmakers cannot agree on a new primary date. The Assembly wanted a June date, the Senate preferred August.
In his ruling, Judge Sharpe went with the Assembly's preferred date of the fourth Tuesday in June, but made clear that another date would be satisfactory as long as it results in compliance with federal law. "Nothing is more critical to a vibrant society than citizen participation in government through the act of voting," Judge Sharpe wrote. "It is unconscionable to send men and women overseas to preserve our democracy while simultaneously disenfranchising them while they are gone. To some extent, that is precisely what New York has done."
As of this posting, the dates for the 2012 elections are (all, of course, on Tuesdays):
24th April – Presidential Primary
26th June – Federal offices Primary
11th September – State and local offices Primary
6th November - General.