New York prepares for wild, unpredictable primary elections amid coronavirus

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New York’s June 23 primary elections — taking place amid a once-in-a-century coronavirus pandemic — could turn out to be the most unpredictable in modern history, with the outcomes of many competitive races left up in the air on Election Night because hundreds of thousands of voters casting ballots by mail.

About 1 million voters statewide have filed requests with election agencies to vote by absentee ballots — including about 300,000 in New York City and another 285,000 combined in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties.

The New York City elections board has so far received almost six times the number of absentee applications this year — 291,947 — as four years ago, when 50,998 were filed during the presidential primary.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order allowing New Yorkers to vote by absentee or mail-in ballot to help reduce “in-person” voting and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many poll workers are elderly and more susceptible to catching the killer bug.

“With a significant portion of the vote coming in via absentee ballots it will likely take weeks after the elections to count all the ballots and declare winners,” said state Board of Elections spokesman John Conklin.

A city Board of Elections insider said, “As much as half the vote could be by absentee ballot. We just don’t know.”

Fred Umane, a Manhattan Republican commissioner and secretary to the city elections board, said it’s the most unpredictable election in his lifetime.

“There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty over who may have won or lost in close races because of potential large number of absentee ballots,” he said.

Election officials here claim they won’t be caught short-handed or unprepared as Georgia elections districts were during primary elections earlier this week, where polling sites were besieged by hours-long lines caused by defective voting equipment and poll worker shortages.

City election officials insist they have roughly the same number of poll inspectors and coordinators who requested to man polling sites in 2016, though it’s unclear how many will show up because of the pandemic. Under normal circumstances, about 30 percent of poll workers don’t show up.

“We’re in better shape than Georgia,” Umane insisted.

The city Board of Elections purchased 10,000 Plexiglass table top dividers to make interactions between voters and poll workers safer. It also ordered hundreds of thousands of two-in-one stylus pens that can be given to each voter to sign in on a tablet and fill out their ballot.

Poll workers are paid $250 per day and site coordinators are paid $350 per day — easy cash at a time when many residents are unemployed because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

New Yorkers will have many opportunities to vote. Nine days of early voting begins on Saturday and runs through June 21 at 79 sites in the city. Voters can look up their polling site online at https://vote.nyc/.

Mail-in applications for an absentee ballot must be postmarked by June 16, although that deadline is extended to June 22 if the voter plans on applying in-person at a local Board of Elections office.

The actual mail-in ballot must be postmarked by June 22.

The courts ruled that New York had to hold a Democratic presidential primary even though all the other candidates suspended their campaigns and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
AFP via Getty Images

Biden’s victory is a moot point on Primary Day — he has also already amassed more than the 1,991 delegates needed for the nomination.

Key New York primary races include:

• 16th Congressional District (Bronx-Westchester): Veteran Rep. Eliot Engel, 73, the foreign relations committee chairman first elected in 1988, faces his toughest Democratic primary yet from insurgent rival Jamaal Bowman, a former Bronx middle school principal. He could become the next Joe Crowley, who was defeated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez two years ago. With just two weeks left in the race, most of Congress’ New York legislators have remained silent and refrained from endorsing their beleaguered colleague as he fights for his political life, which was not helped by a hot-mic blunder earlier in June.

• 14th CD (Bronx-Queens): Speaking of AOC, the first-time incumbent Democratic socialist is facing a spirited primary from former business journalist Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, who has attacked Ocasio-Cortez’s contrarian voting record, spats with Democratic leaders and opposition to Amazon’s aborted plan to open a headquarters on the Queens waterfront. But Caruso-Cabrera’s ties to Republicans donors and her prior conservative positions don’t aide her cause in a Democratic primary.

• 15th CD (South Bronx): The battle to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Jose Serrano. Councilman Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., a lightning rod for opposing gay marriage and abortion, is considered a leading candidate along with Councilman Ritchie Torres. Others in the races include former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, AOC-backed Samelys Torres, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and Assemblyman Michael Blake.

Councilman Ritchie Torres
Councilman Ritchie TorresREUTERS

• 9th CD (Brooklyn) — Rep. Yvette Clarke faces a tough challenge from several opponents, including a rematch with chief rival Adem Bunkeddeko, who she only narrowly defeated in 2018.

• 12th CD (Manhattan-Queens-Brooklyn): — Veteran Rep. Carolyn Maloney faces a rematch from her chief rival from two years ago, hotel magnate Suraj Patel, as well as candidate Lauren Ashcraft.

• 11th CD (Staten Island-Brooklyn): In a rare Republican primary, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis faces off against prosecutor Joe Caldarera to determine who takes on first-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Max Rose in the general election.

• 2nd CD (Suffolk-Nassau): There’s a Republican primary to replace retiring veteran Rep. Peter King. King and the GOP leadership are backing Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino over fellow Assemblyman Michael LiPetri.

• Queens Borough President: A Democratic primary to fill a seat vacated by Melinda Katz, who was elected Queens DA last year. Councilman Donovan Richards is the party-backed front-runner. Other candidates include Councilman Costa Constantinides, former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and former cop Anthony Miranda.

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