Press-Republican

September 7, 2013

Primary Day features 21 races in Clinton County

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — The lineup for this year’s Primary Day election in Clinton County may be light, but it remains an important cog in the electoral system.

“Most people underestimate the importance of primaries, but it means everything in the electoral process,” Clinton County Democratic Party Chairman Martin Mannix said.

“People absolutely need to get out and vote.”

In Clinton County, 21 primaries will be held on Tuesday, but only two are head-to-head battles. Democratic Party voters will choose a candidate in wards 1 and 3 of the City of Plattsburgh.

OPPORTUNITY TO BALLOT

In 14 cases, the primaries will feature one candidate on the ballot for the Independence or Conservative parties, with what is known as an “opportunity to ballot” for other candidates.

That simply means that voters can choose the candidate listed on the ballot or write in any other person they choose.

In five races, there will be no candidate listed, and voters in the Independence and Conservative Parties can write in any choice they want.

Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m.

CLOSED PRIMARIES

While primaries do not get the same attention that general elections do, they have been an important part of the system in New York for more than a century.

According to SUNY Plattsburgh political science professor and Department Chair Harvey L. Schantz, primaries were instituted in the state in 1911, following a national trend at the time.

New York state has a closed primary, he explained, which means that only people registered with a party can vote in that party’s primary. So for example, you have to be a registered Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary.

Schantz says the lack of participation in primaries this year by candidates is not unusual.

UNUSUAL RACE

But one race is more intriguing.

In Ward 1 of the city, incumbent Councilor Timothy Carpenter and Rachelle Armstrong are both seeking the Democratic Party nod.

Carpenter was elected to the council in 2007 and again in 2010. But party leaders unexpectedly chose Armstrong as their candidate this year at a caucus in March.

“Very infrequently is an incumbent challenged in a primary, and very rarely are incumbents defeated in a primary,” Schantz said.

“That is what makes the Armstrong-Carpenter race so unusual.”

DIVISION

Schantz said the primary in Ward 1 could hurt the Democratic Party if its volunteers become divided and the bad feelings spill over to the November election. If that were to happen, it could benefit Republican candidate William Ferris.

“The winning Democratic candidate has to mend fences with the defeated candidate as soon as possible,” Schantz said.

“On the other hand, a candidate surviving a tough primary has had the opportunity to garner more media coverage and to develop his or her campaign organization and skills.”

FRESH CHANCE

The primary in Ward 3 in the city, where Justin Meyer and Kathi McCleery — neither an incumbent — are vying for the Democratic Party line, is more typical, Schantz said.

“The absence of an incumbent is the best opportunity for a candidate to win public office,” he said.

MEMBERS’ CHOICE

Another aspect of primaries, Schantz noted, is that voter turnout is usually very low. Primaries in previous years have drawn as little as 5 percent among registered party voters.

“If you get 10 percent, you are doing pretty good,” Clinton County Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Greg Campbell said.

But Schantz said primaries still serve an important purpose.

“Primaries are very important because they present the rank-and-file voters with the opportunity to determine the actual party nominee.

“In the absence of primaries, party nominees would be chosen by party meetings or conventions.”

Email Joe LoTemplio;jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com