New York’s first-ever presidential primary was June 20, 1972, when Democrats wrapped up George McGovern’s nomination. That was also the last time the state’s presidential primary was held the same day as the legislative and congressional primaries, which have been split ever since for cynical reasons.
Gov. Cuomo now wants to reunify the contests. He’s 538% right, as it would bolster democracy, increase turnout and save $50 million in the balance.
The date of the primaries were separated starting in 1976 because of partisan politics, in reaction to an unintended consequence of the 1972 voter surge, which was caused by New Yorkers turning out to help choose a national standard-bearer. Longtime regulars lost to insurgents, like Liz Holtzman (the first AOC), who shocked Rep. Manny Celler, a 50-year veteran and Judiciary chairman for half that time.
Also, party positions unexpectedly changed hands, as district leaders and state committee and county committee members lost.
The Dem bosses were aghast and vowed never again would the huge crowd who showed up only every four years for presidential picks be allowed to influence their insiders’ game.
This being New York, though, the conspiracy to depress turnout for statewide races in order to favor incumbents is bipartisan.
In 1974, it was the GOP’s turn to play calendar games. Controlling the governorship and both legislative houses, they moved the other primaries from June to September, theorizing that that out-of-power Democrats would have a demolition derby and not be able to unite in time for November.
Didn’t work. Nixon resigned that August and Democrats captured the governor’s office and the Assembly.
With the Dems now totally in charge, they have returned the primaries to June. That’s good, but it’s not enough: Combine it with the presidential vote and begin to see what true democracy looks like.