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Voting delight

After the ballot-reading machine refused her ballot several times, Joan Flanagan of Queensbury was delighted when it finally registered her vote for the recent primary.

The new primary date did not draw in a crowd of voters.

Instead, turnout for the sheriff’s race was much lower than it was in the last sheriff’s primary in 2007.

Only 21% of registered Republicans voted in the countywide Republican primary.

In 2007, 38% of registered Republicans voted in a primary for the same position, Warren County sheriff.

“The turnout was relatively low,” said Warren County Election Commissioner Bill Van Ness.

Legislators changed the primary date this year from September to June to align with the date for the federal primary and draw in more voters for all primaries. Of course, there was no federal primary this year — it is a local election year. Next year will be the presidential primary, so this year was something of a trial year.

Warren County Republican Committee Chairman Mike Grasso is not a fan of the new date. He preferred September, the traditional date for state and local primaries in New York.

“In September, people don’t travel,” he said, noting that people have returned from summer vacations and families are focused on the start of school. “Everyone’s home. No one is going to Disney in September.”

But June is far busier, especially late June, when the primary is now held.

“In June, people travel. It’s right when school gets out. There’s a million distractions,” he said. “So are people focused on a primary in June? No.”

This year, he thinks many would-be voters missed the primary.

“Changing the date had a lot of people confused,” he said.

The media’s focus on President Donald Trump has soured some voters, he said.

“I think people are sick of politics,” he said.

Even without all that depressing turnout, he said it might be unreasonable to expect the race to equal the turnout in 2007.

He looked closely at the 2007 primary and noted that many towns also had primaries. This year, only a handful of towns held primaries.

“The fact that there were (almost) no primaries in the towns is a better explanation than the change in date,” Grasso said. “Local primaries, that gets the local town interested. That got the towns out.”

The date change this year was an ordeal, because it moved all primary-preparation activities to mid-winter. Candidates walked through snow and slipped on ice to get petitions signed. Many snowbirds were gone, making it a struggle to get enough signatures in small towns.

Candidates also were unprepared to declare their interest in a race by February, when many committees are still recruiting new people. The change proved awkward for some first-time elected officials as well, because they had to make a decision on running for re-election just 14 months after they took office.

Many races this year ended up not being competitive, partly because local committees said they couldn’t find enough candidates in time.

In Moreau, for example, the Democrats are running one person against two Town Board incumbents. And in a twist, the person they found is a Republican.

But local politicians said they hope the changes will prove worthwhile, by getting more people to vote.

So far, that has not been the case.

This year’s countywide Republican primary drew 3,902 voters. That includes those who wrote in a different name, turned in a ballot without choosing anyone, or sent in an absentee.

In 2007, for the same countywide position, 8,039 people voted.

The number of registered Republicans in the county has dropped about 12 percent in the intervening decade, from 20,962 to 18,368.

Still, at least there was a primary for the sheriff’s race, said Queensbury Democratic Committee Chairman Mike Parwana.

“To me the bright side is that there have been any primaries at all,” he said. “It has been exceedingly rare in Warren County to have local primaries in the recent or distant past. I believe it bodes well for the future of democracy here.”

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You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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reporter - Health care, Moreau, Queensbury, South Glens Falls

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