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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Prospect of low turnout dogs arguments in 3rd District primary

Jack Martins, GOP incumbent candidate for New York

Jack Martins, GOP incumbent candidate for New York State Senate 7th District, poses for a portrait at his office on Thursday, July 3, 2014. Credit: James Escher

Oh, the irony.

The latest salvo in the ongoing fight between Republicans Jack Martins and would-be primary challenger Philip Pidot — to decide who will take on Democrat Thomas Suozzi for the 3rd Congressional District race — is all about voter turnout.

And this comes after a foot-dragging race in state courts between the two Republicans over whether Pidot had 1,250 valid petition signatures to qualify for a primary.

Well, as it turns out, Pidot had more than enough valid petitions — which would put him in a primary against Martins.

Except, as a state court ruled, it was too late for Pidot to get on the June 28 primary ballot. Or, put more bluntly, Pidot did the work necessary to give Republican voters a choice in a primary — but never mind.

But a federal judge, thank goodness, stepped in and decided that there indeed would and should be a primary — on Oct. 6, which is a Thursday, a point to which we’ll return later.

This week, the parties are slated to be back in federal court again. This time, over Martins’ request that hey, since the primary is on Oct. 6 the general election ought to be moved as well, to Dec. 6 — which is a Tuesday, two weeks after Thanksgiving and a little over two weeks before Christmas.

Martins’ key argument? He says he wants to give military and absentee voters enough time to cast ballots. Which sounds noble. Except that, politically — and in campaigns, all things are political — a December voting date also would move the contest away from November, when voter turnout is expected to be high.

On Monday, one of Martins’ arguments became pretty much moot after the Department of Defense approved a waiver, with conditions, for New York State that would allow 3rd District military voters enough time to have their ballots for the Nov. 8 general election count. That waiver likely will become part of Pidot’s argument when the fight moves back to federal court on Tuesday.

Still, as both candidates make their pitch for Letting the People Decide, there’s another factor to consider. On Long Island, as in the rest of the nation, alas, so few people do vote.

Between 2010 and 2013, the number of registered voters in Nassau and Suffolk rose — in fits and in starts — to 1.9 million from 1.8 million.

In 2012 — a presidential election year — 62.4 percent of those registered cast votes for candidates in the 3rd U.S. Congressional District race. Two years later — with no presidential contest at the top of the ballot, that percentage fell to 37.3 percent.

In local races — from county executive and town supervisor to library board and fire commissioner — the percentages tank even more.

Which brings us back to the Martins-Pidot primary fight.

As it is — judging by past races — turnout for the slated Oct. 6 contest is anticipated to be low.

Remember, that’s a Thursday.

And as for Martins’ request to move the general election from November to December, well, it doesn’t take a statistician to predict low voter turnout then as well — during prime holiday shopping season.

Which makes the ongoing arguments about which election date would boost voter participation a farce.

And that will remain true, for this and every other political race — unless voters decide to be active, rather than remain apathetic.

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