By Jason Taylor
(WXIR-Rochester) Local candidates for state legislature endorsed by New York’s Working Families Party saw strong results from Tuesday’s primary. Five of the candidates backed by the Working Families Party and Citizen Action are currently leading in their primaries against other Democratic candidates. Two other similarly endorsed candidates were unopposed during the primary and will likely face off against a Republican opponent in the November general election.
The five primary candidates are Sarah Clark (Assembly District 136), Demond Meeks (Assembly District 137), Harry Bronson (Assembly District 138), Jeremy Cooney (State Senate District 56), and Kim Smith (State Senate District 61). The two candidates already slated for the general election are Jennifer Lunsford (Assembly District 135) and Samra Brouk (State Senate District 55).
At a press conference Thursday, Working Families Party Deputy Elections Director Rynn Reed congratulated the candidates. “While ballots are still being counted and results are subject to change, we already know that these candidates’ leads are part of a greater trend throughout New York State and the rest of the country. New Yorkers are hungry for new voices and for change. They’ve told us at the ballot box that they want candidates who are unafraid to say that our criminal justice system is racist, unafraid to say that housing is a human right, and unafraid to say that lack of free healthcare is not just an inconvenience but a crisis.”
The results are still preliminary because the Board of Elections has yet to count the large number of mail-in ballots received this year. Yet the promising early results for Working Families Party candidates mirrors other promising results for progressive candidates elsewhere in the state. Since 2016 in particular, the Democratic party has experienced a noticeable split between more moderate, establishment candidates and more progressive newcomers. This split has been based on both ideology and diversity.
During Thursday’s press conference Kim Smith noted this ideological divide: “Progressives are normally or in this day are being labeled as radical, labeled as communist. But historically we cannot forget that this country has moved because of progressives such as Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., [and] Frederick Douglas.”
Jeremy Cooney highlighted the diversity divide: “I couldn’t be prouder to stand with this incredible group of leaders in our community that finally reflects the diversity of this community. Whether it’s gender, whether it’s sexual orientation, whether it’s faith, whether it’s color, it doesn’t matter. This is the group that reflects Rochester.”
The Board of Elections will begin counting absentee ballots July 1st. Typically absentee ballots only make up a small percentage of the total number of votes cast in elections in New York. But this year, due to COVID-19, Governor Cuomo made them available to all voters. According to the Monroe County Board of Elections, over 77,000 absentee ballots were filed in the primary, nearly three times the number of votes cast in-person on election day. Only 4,000 people participated in early voting. By contrast only around 4,000 absentee ballots were submitted during the both the 2016 presidential and state and local primaries.
While the expansion of absentee voting offered more opportunities to vote, there were several issues throughout the voting process. Among the issues voters have already reported include sudden changes in polling places, longer than usual lines, and some poll workers failing to give out a second ballot for the multiple elections taking place.
In a statement given on the night of the primary, Republican Monroe County Election Commissioner Lisa Nicolay said, “Conducting an election is always a challenging process with many variables and moving parts. Today’s primaries and special elections were no exception.”
While early results are promising for Working Families Party-endorsed candidates, official results will not be known until July. Even if the candidates win the primary, the general election looms large on November’s horizon. The 2020 general election is anticipated to be one of the most consequential elections in recent history, with a historically unpopular and polarizing incumbent president sitting at the top of one ticket, and different energized groups of voters all clamoring for their own vision of change.
JASON TAYLOR is a volunteer reporter for Reclaiming the Narrative.