Primary date to stay put despite mix-up

BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP) — A political mix-up over the timing of September’s state election primary may have to be left unresolved, Secretary of State William Galvin, the top Massachusetts elections officer, told reporters Tuesday.

Scheduled for Sept. 6, the rescheduled state primary coincides with the final day of the Democratic National Convention, when many Massachusetts political activists and some elected officials hope to be in Charlotte, N.C., to nominate President Barack Obama for a second term.

Galvin told the News Service that the only other “feasible” date to hold the primary, Tuesday, Sept. 11, could open the state up to litigation, in part because of a federal law requiring that overseas and military ballots be mailed out 45 days before a general election.

“I know this is making some people going to the Democratic National Convention unhappy,” the five-term Democrat said in an interview at the State House’s Grand Staircase. “But, I mean, let’s be honest. There’s very little suspense at least at this point about the Democratic National Convention and the last night tends to be a celebratory night.”

Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law last year moving the primary from Sept. 18 to Sept. 6 to avoid a conflict with the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, before recognizing that it would overlap with the DNC. In late November, Patrick told the News Service the state should “certainly” change the primary date and called it “amazing” that no one had picked up on the date’s conflict with the convention. Since then, he has repeated his hopes of changing the date and his office reiterated his intentions Tuesday.

“We are currently exploring potential alternatives for the primary election and will work with the Legislature and Secretary of State on a new proposal,” said Patrick spokeswoman Kimberly Haberlin.

But Galvin made clear that he would be hard-pressed to support another change, particularly one that could “shortchange” the political process. At issue, Galvin said, is a requirement that ballots for the Nov. 6 general election be mailed to absentee, overseas and military voters 45 days in advance, a mandate included in 2010 federal legislation.

While Galvin had not expressed reservations about the original Sept. 18 primary date, he said this week that pushing the primary later than Sept. 6 would brush up against the 45-day requirement, and potentially past it if any primary results are recounted, or if a nominated candidate drops out.

“The problem with the 11th is we would minimally have to consider changing the laws for substituting candidates and for recounts,” Galvin said.

Galvin pointed to a conundrum in 2008, when the Democratic nominee for Middlesex County register of probate dropped out after the primary, leaving it to the Democratic Party to nominate a replacement. That process took three weeks, he said, forcing a delay in the printing of ballots.

One option could be to shorten the window for recounts or for parties to nominate replacements for any nominees who drop out after the primary, Galvin said, but he added he was skeptical of curtailing the electoral process to appease Democratic activists. He noted that New York’s state primary, scheduled for Sept. 11, has already been challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Had the original election date not conflicted with Rosh Hashanah, Galvin said it’s likely he would have considered pushing for an earlier primary anyway given the legal hurdles facing New York and the deadline for overseas ballots.

“We still would have had to ask for a waiver or move it, but it’s becoming apparent that the Justice Department has become reluctant to grant waivers,” Galvin said.

An earlier primary, he said, would also be fraught with peril. In addition to falling during a popular vacation month, an August primary could strain school buildings that often aren’t open over the summer but are typically used as local polling locations.

It would also serve little purpose, Galvin said, to move the date earlier than Sept. 6 because ballots could not be printed regardless until the Democratic Party officially has a nominee for president.

Despite his concerns, Galvin said he hasn’t foreclosed the possibility of another date change and acknowledged discussion with Patrick administration officials.

“I’ve had conversations with legal counsel. I sent them a copy of the New York suit,” he said. “I’m open to discussion. I’m not saying no. What I’m saying is if you consider a change, you have to address these issues.”

Galvin also said that while it may be too late for the 2012 election it’s “certainly worthy of looking at” state laws that automatically set the primary election date seven weeks before the general election for future years.

Copyright 2014 Kyle Cheney, State House News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Massachusetts (change)

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Governor: Deval Patrick
Lieutenant Governor: Tim Murray
Attorney General: Martha Coakley
Secretary of State: Bill Galvin

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