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Politics & Government

Voting is Underway for NY-24 Democratic Congressional Primary; "Election" Day is June 23

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Primary election day for democrats in the 24th congressional district is June 23rd, but some voters might have already cast their ballots.   The state is allowing vote-by-mail for the combined presidential and congressional primaries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  And, early voting is underway at six sites across Onondaga County. 

WAER’s Political reporter Scott Willis checks in with a Syracuse University professor to find out how that and other factors might impact the outcome of the race between Francis Conole and Dana Balter.

It’s clearly been a challenge for the candidates to campaign for the last three months, when political science professor Grant Reeher says they’d normally be attending back to back events across the district, trying to reach and energize voters. 

"The pandemic and to some degree the protests and civil unrest have taken most the political oxygen out of the room in terms of attention for something like a primary.  First of all, logistically it's hard to try to  reach people.  And then, if they can, whether they're listening is another question."

Both Balter and Conole have hosted or participated in numerous virtual gatherings since mid-March, hoping to keep the primary on voters minds.  Reeher says the silver lining could be that people have a heightened awareness of the news, and it can be an advantage if candidates harness it in different ways.  For example, they both joined a virtual forum hosted by the Black Leadership Coalition, where they acknowledges the racial tensions posed by the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. 

In some ways, though, voters might not know there’s a primary.  Not because the candidates haven’t been reaching out, but because they rarely acknowledge it.  In forums and interviews, Dana Balter and Francis Conole mostly focus on defeating incumbent John Katko in November, and getting Donald Trump out of the White House.  Reeher notes there’s an interesting dynamic at play in this race.

"Francis Conole is running his campaign more on his resume and his biography than on a set of policy positions.  I think it's fair to say that he's been somewhat vague on his specific policy positions," Reeher said.

"Dana Balter has run a campaign and has already taken a bunch of positions on different policies," he continued.  "They may have a hard time differentiating from each other if one of them doesn't have the same set of relatively clear policy stances that the other one does."  

Reeher says that and other factors might give Balter the edge under circumstances that have been anything but normal.

"Given that Dana Balter ran before, her name recognition is going to be, if not as high as John Katko's, at least in that same ballpark because she's already run a general election," Reeher said.

"Francis Conole may have a name recognition problem and he may not be able to solve that because of all the complications of what's been happening in the country in recent months."

The other unknown factor in this primary is how voters are casting their ballots.  Everyone has been allowed to vote by mail as long as they request an absentee ballot.  And, there’s early, in person voting at six locations across Onondaga County through June 21st.  Reeher admits he’s not sure what to expect.

"There are so many moving parts to the answer, that the best I can tell you is that I have no idea!  But I'm very curious to see.  On the one hand, you have the pandemic and civil unrest and how that is going to affect things.  And then you have this change in the voting rules.  All things being equal, the the easier you make it for people to vote, the more turnout that you're going to get."

If that’s the case, it’s anyone’s guess if that will favor either candidate.