Many voters seem to agree with the presidential candidates that Election Day in November will be the most important election in a generation. But there is another Election Day before that - Primary Day this week - which NOBODY thinks is more important.
True, in New York City, a thoroughly Democratic town, many local races will in effect be decided during the primary on September 14, when New Yorkers will select party nominees for U.S. Congress, the State Legislature, and a dozen seats on the Civil Court.
But most of the incumbent members of Congress and the legislature are running unopposed anyway. Even the few who have opponents aren't much worried; voting has become a game that incumbents almost always win. Visit our Voting Arcade and play our first voting game, Donkey Con (Elephant Evasion), to learn first-hand the power of an incumbent's superior name recognition, party backing, cash, and other usually insurmountable obstacles for a challenger.
Adding to the normal frustrations of Election Day are new rules intended to make the process more reliable - first-time voters in New York State who registered by mail after January 1, 2003 will now be required to present identification at the polls. (Read more about this change and why it is not necessarily an improvement.) One addition that might be helpful -- a Voter's Bill of Rights, which must be displayed at every polling place.
For all the problems, it is still a citizen's obligation to vote - and, since some races are considered competitive this year (some even have no incumbents!), there remains the possibility that one person's vote can make a difference.
Here is our Primary Day guide for the last minute voter.
After the election is over, visit Gotham Gazette for the results
- WHAT IS AT STAKE?
- WHICH RACES ARE COMPETITIVE?
- HOW CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CANDIDATES?
- WHERE DO I VOTE?
- WHAT IF I ENCOUNTER PROBLEMS AT THE POLLS?
- HOW DO I FIND RESULTS?
- WHEN IS THE GENERAL ELECTION?
- CAN I STILL REGISTER TO VOTE?
New York City's 13 representatives to the U.S. Congress are all up for re-election. Whoever is elected to the White House in the next term, and whatever their position on urban issues, members of Congress will face difficult decisions on issues critical to the city such as:
The links above go to articles about these issues in general. Gotham Gazette has published articles by most of the New York delegation members on these and other issues, and will publish more by challengers in coming weeks. (To read the articles, visit Focus on the Feds.)
There are five primary races for Congress in New York City: one in Queens, two in the Bronx, one in Brooklyn, and one in northern Manhattan. (For races to watch, see "Which Races Are Competitive".)
To find out who is running in your district, type your address into Gotham Gazette's Congressional District finder.
All 89 New York City representatives to the New York State Legislature are up for re-election this fall. If nearly everyone in New York agrees that state government in Albany needs new blood and new ideas, it is unlikely they are going to get it.
This year, the State Legislature missed its budget deadline for the 20th year in a row. Lawmakers failed to come up with a plan to fund a basic education for New York City students, even though a state Court of Appeals required them to do so. Many pieces of major legislation stalled. And three members of the State Legislature pleaded guilty to criminal charges, while several more are currently being investigated. (Read more about why Albany is so dysfunctional)
The elections for Civil Court this fall will select judges that hear private, non-criminal lawsuits, which have a monetary value of no more than $25,000. (Click here for a list of judicial candidates)
Recently, New York City's judicial system has come under scrutiny with reports of scandal and political patronage and investigations are still ongoing. (Read more about judicial scandal or play Gotham Gazette's Judges Game.)
The most watched local Congressional race this year is in Brooklyn's district 11, where 22-year incumbent Representative Major Owens faces two challengers: City Council members Tracy Boyland and Yvette Clarke. Owens has said he plans to retire at the end of his next term, and his challengers say he will be a lame duck if he is re-elected.
Other congressional primaries include a race in district 17 in the northern Bronx, where two Democrats, Kevin McAdams and Jessica Flagg, want to unseat Representative Eliot Engel.
The northern shore of Queens features a Republican primary as Stephen Graves and Gonzalo Policarpio vie for a chance to face Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman in the November election.
In eastern Bronx and northern Queens, Democratic Congressman Joseph Crowley faces three challengers: Curtis Brooks, Dennis Coleman, and Aniello Grimaldi.
And in northern Manhattan's district 15, Democrats Ruben Dario Vargas and Geoffrey Johnson are trying to unseat Congressman Charles Rangel.
State Senate and Assembly
While many incumbents in the New York State Legislature do not face challengers in the primary, there are four rare open seats this year.
The indictment of long-time State Senator Guy Velella, who is serving one year in prison for bribery, has upended the status quo in Bronx politics this year - not only in his district in northern Bronx and Westchester, but in two other districts as well. (See an article about the race to fill Velella's seat).
Two incumbent State Assembly members have given up their seats to run for Velella's spot. One is Assembly Democrat Stephen Kaufman, who represents Co-Op City and the northeastern Bronx (See an article on the race to fill this seat). The other is Democrat Jeffrey Klein, who represents neighborhoods like Pelham Bay and Norwood in the Bronx. (See an article on the race to fill this seat.)
In State Senate district 23, which includes southwest Brooklyn and the north shore of Staten Island, four Democrats are fighting for the seat left vacant by the retirement of Seymour Lachman. (Read an article on this race).
Other races feature multiple candidates hoping to score an upset this fall.
In Harlem, two challengers - John Ruiz and Eddie Baca - are trying to unseat Democratic Adam Clayton Powell, who has been the subject of criminal investigations after two women accused him of separate incidents of rape. (Read an article about this race).
In East Harlem, three Democrats -- Jose Serrano, Agustin Alamo Estrada, and Nelson A. Denis â€“ are vying to challenge long-time Senator Olga Mendez, who switched to the Republican Party in 2002. (Read an article about this race.)
And on the South Shore of Staten Island, a feud in the local Republican Party has pitted Assemblymember Robert Straniere against two Republican challengers: Mario Bruno and Vincent Ignizio. (Learn more about this race.)
Click here a full list of all of the state primary races and candidates.
Even the most attentive voter can have trouble evaluating candidates, especially those who are running in the primary and agree on many basic issues.
Newspaper editorials can be helpful; the major metropolitan newspapers endorse candidates for office in their editorials:
New York's issue advocacy groups also rate candidates on certain policies:
Citizens Union, a good government group affiliated with Citizens Union Foundation, the publisher of Gotham Gazette, prefers candidates for state office based on their ideas for reforming Albany. The Empire State Pride Agenda rates candidates on their stands on gay and lesbian issues. The New York League of Conservation Voters endorses candidates on environmental issues.
Polls open at 6:00 a.m. and close at 9:00 p.m. Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered to the Board of Elections by 9:00 p.m.
New voting regulations may cause confusion at the polls this year.
New Yorkers who registered to vote for the first time via mail after January 1, 2003, will be asked to provide identification, such as a driver's license when they go to the polls. Those without a driver's license can also offer a copy of a valid photo ID, a current utility bill, a bank statement, a government check or other government document that shows the voter's name and address. Those who don't have any form of identification or refuse to supply one will be allowed to vote on paper ballot, not in the machines, according to the Board of Elections. Those votes will be counted once they are verified to match registration forms. (Read more about I.D. requirements.)
The new rule is part of the federal Help America Vote Act, which Congress passed after the turmoil in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. (Read more about efforts to reform voting in New York.)
The city's Board of Elections also says that it has increased efforts to make polling places accessible for senior citizens and handicapped voters, but they admit that there are still problems at some sites. Voters who feel that their polling site is inaccessible should call the Voter Registration Unit of their local borough office for information.
The New York Voter's Bill of Rights answers basic questions like "Can I bring someone with me to help vote?" and "Can I still vote if the machine breaks?" (The answer to both questions is "yes.")
Television stations and newspapers will cover the most competitive races, but some results - like judicial races - are more difficult to find.
Visit Gotham Gazette's results page on election night and the following days. Remember, a close race can take days or weeks to decide.
The General Election is Tuesday, November 2. And there is still time to register to vote in November.
The last day to register to vote in New York is October 8. The last day to file a request for an absentee ballot for the General Election in New York is October 26.
Then mail the form to:
Board of Elections in the City of New York
32 Broadway, 7 Fl
New York, NY 10004-1609
Gotham Gazette's Election Results
State Legislative Races
Focus on the Feds
Eye on Albany 2004
List of Judicial Candidates
New York City Board of Elections
CNN's Guide to New York Congressional Races