Low turnouts plague primaries in state

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A file photo of Bridget M. Fleming, a A file photo of Bridget M. Fleming, a Noyack Democrat serving on the Southampton Town Board. (July 15, 2011) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New

Early primary returns on Thursday showed that Bridget Fleming, a Southampton Town board member, defeated Jennifer Maertz by a 4-1 ratio for the Democratic nomination in the 1st State Senate District to oppose Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) in the November election.

Fleming's victory, while decisive, came on strikingly low turnout -- with 2,562 people, or a mere 4.4 percent of the district's 58,735 enrolled Democrats, casting ballots, according to a quickly issued analysis by the New York Public Interest Research Group.

According to NYPIRG's numbers, it was the lowest turnout of 19 State Senate primary contests statewide. The highest reached nearly 29 percent of registered Democrats in the new Albany-area 44th District, where incumbent Sen. Neil Breslin received more than 15,600 votes to fend off a challenger by more than 2-1.

Even if vote totals rise a bit in final canvassing, is this range -- working out to a 13 percent turnout in those 19 primaries -- acceptable? If you don't think so, blame might go in part to the loopy 2012 primary schedule -- presidential in April, congressional in June, and state legislative contests Thursday.

The schedule was splintered when Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans failed to agree on a single date. A federal court had ordered the state to move up the federal primaries from mid-September to assure time for overseas ballots, but lacked jurisdiction to order state voting the same day.

The 2012 problem won't arise next year, officials note, because local contests dominate the ballot. But it could easily recur in 2014 -- when state and congressional seats reopen -- and thus help further suppress voting. Then again, maybe entrenched lawmakers see no benefit for themselves in boosting public participation.

LA VIDA LOPEZ: How did GOP Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, who lost to Democrat Eric Schneiderman for state attorney general in 2010, end up handling a criminal probe of Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn)? Brooklyn DA Charles J. Hynes noted that Lopez, as borough party chairman, supported him in 2009, and was expected to do so next year, so Hynes applied for another DA to investigate.

But wait. Hadn't Hynes in recent years repeatedly prosecuted ex-Assemb. Clarence Norman -- Lopez's predecessor as party chair? The DA's camp replies that Norman wasn't a Hynes supporter -- except in 1998 when Hynes sought the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. George Pataki.

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