New York’s Primary Election Returns: A Preliminary Assessment

NY State Government: Week in Review

The most important observation that can be made about the primary returns from Tuesday, June 23, is that they are incomplete and preliminary, precisely because the absentee ballots will not be counted until July 1 at the earliest. Under New York State law and a derivative Executive Order by Governor Cuomo for this year, the absentee ballots will be valid if postmarked by midnight June 23 and if they arrive at the Board of Elections by June 30. There will be no tabulation of any of these absentee ballots until all legal ballots arrive in the mail and are verified. It is anticipated that this counting will stretch into mid-July and perhaps later. In addition, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, no reason was required for voters to be eligible for an absentee ballot for this election. This became, in effect, a hybrid mail-in/machine and early-vote primary—the first ever in New York State history. Given the high level of interest by voters in securing absentee ballots, instead of the usual percentages (4–7% of total votes cast being absentee ballots in a typical election), this primary will likely have more votes cast by absentee than in-person voting. But there is no way of knowing what that breakdown will be until all the absentee ballots are mailed back. In some districts, the absentee share will be in the range of 25–40% of the total votes cast, while in other districts it could range from 60–75% of the total votes cast by mail. Consequently, no race where the margin of lead announced this past Tuesday night was 10% or less is safe to call, and even larger margins are not assured of holding up in those districts where the absentee share is high and/or the voting pattern of those casting votes by absentee ballot is dramatically different by dint of age, race, ethnicity, religion or ideology.

Having said that, we do not expect those who are ahead by large margins—such as Jamaal Bowman (who challenged incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel) in the 16th Congressional District (CD), incumbent Rep. Yvette Clarke in the 9th CD or Mondaire Jones in the 17th CD (the open Rep. Nita Lowey seat)—to lose, but now is not the time to presume apparent winners and any final margins of victory. Nevertheless, amidst this kaleidoscope of uncertainty, we can point to certain trends clearly worth noting.

  1. Incumbents did pretty well for the most part, except where the political demography of the district was changing or had changed dramatically. In the Assembly, five incumbent Democrats were behind in the counts announced Tuesday night (three in Queens and two in Westchester), with two incumbents ahead but locked in close races: Assm. John McDonald in the Capital District and Assm. Walter Mosely in Brooklyn. In Western Queens, where three Assembly Democratic incumbents trail, it can be said that demographic change has led that portion of Queens to resemble the same sort of change that the West Side of Manhattan went through beginning in the 1960s. Western Queens has become the progressive’s capitol in New York City (Jenifer Rajkumar leads incumbent Assm. Michael Miller in the 38th Assembly District (AD) and Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas leads incumbent Assm. Michael DenDekker in the 34th AD by wide margins, while Zohran Mamdani leads Assm. Aravella Simotas in the 36th AD by 8%). In Westchester’s 92nd AD, Jennifer Williams was ahead of incumbent Assm. Thomas Abinanti by 260 votes Tuesday night, but now Assm. Abinanti leads by 500 votes. In the 91st AD, challenger Meg Cameron was ahead of incumbent Assm. Steven Otis by 660 votes Tuesday night, but now Assm. Otis trails by only 200 votes. No incumbent state senators lost primaries.
  2. It is worth noting that no incumbent Black or Hispanic member of the Assembly or the Senate was trailing in their primaries, and most led by landslide margins. The Queens races for the Assembly mirrored the increasing diversity in Queens, in turn reflecting the aspirations of the communities from the Indian subcontinent and the increasing political appeal of Latina candidates within the diverse Hispanic communities (in terms of nation of origin). This is but a new chapter in an old New York political book, replicating the earlier aspirations of the Irish, Italian, Polish and Jewish communities, who used politics as a means of showing that they were ready to take their place in American politics and society at large. The pundits see this purely through the lens of ideology, when there is a sharp racial, ethnic and religious factor underlying the results. Progressives did not do nearly as well challenging minority incumbents, and in fact, were unsuccessful in all such challenges on Tuesday.
  3. In the congressional races, Jamaal Bowman appears to have decisively defeated Eliot Engel in the 16th CD (Bronx/Westchester), but the margin could change. Mondaire Jones is far ahead of a splintered field in the 17th CD, the open Nita Lowey seat; in the 15th CD, the open Jose Serrano seat, Ritchie Torres leads Michael Blake by 10% in a large field. In the 27th CD in Western New York, Republican Chris Jacobs won both the special election for the vacancy created by the conviction of former Rep. Chris Collins and his Republican primary by landslide margins. So the 27th CD seems safe for the GOP to hold the seat. But five congressional races will be hotly contested in November. Three are possible rematches: Democrat Perry Gershon (who has a narrow lead in the primary against Nancy Goroff) against the incumbent Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin in the 1st CD; Dana Balter (who leads her primary by a landslide margin) against incumbent Republican Rep. John Katko in the 24th CD centered on Syracuse; and the Democratic incumbent Anthony Brindisi, who will take on the prior incumbent Claudia Tenney in a conservative-oriented swing district in Central New York east of Syracuse. The other two races to watch are Nicole Malliotakis (who won the Republican primary by a large margin) against Democratic incumbent Rep. Max Rose in the 11th CD, a Staten Island/Brooklyn-based district, and the open Rep. Peter King seat in the 2nd CD including parts of Nassau and Suffolk counties, where both the Democrat Jackie Gordon and the Republican Andrew Garbarino won their respective primaries by comfortable margins. If, come November, either party can secure a net gain of two seats from those three Republican and two Democratic seats, that would be significant both within New York State and in terms of the GOP’s aspirations to win back the House majority. For the GOP to have any chance in their uphill climb to win back the House, they would need to pick up at least two seats in New York State.

Beyond those observations, this would cease to be analysis and would venture into opinion. We will provide a final update when all the votes are counted.

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