Primaries important in selecting local leaders

When thinking about elections, primaries can be forgotten. However, Chautauqua County Board of Elections Commissioners Norman P. Green and Brian C. Abram encourage everyone eligible to vote to show up to the primary Tuesday, Sept. 12 as the decisions made can directly impact the local community.

“I think any opportunity you have to vote and participate in the process is extremely important and anybody that can be part of the democracy should exercise their right,” Abram said in a recent phone interview.


One of the biggest races on Tuesday’s primary ballot is for Dunkirk City Court Judge. Of the possible eight parties, seven will be listed on the Nov. 7 ballot and six of them are contested and will appear for voters’ choice on Tuesday. There is not a Reform Party candidate.

“There are a lot of parties involved and obviously when you get a lot of parties involved, it opens it up for more people. In terms of the turnout, it’s not just a Republican and Democratic primary, it’s got a lot of the major parties involved. It makes it more unique and definitely one to watch because you get to watch all those races within the race,” Abram said.

Candidates include James Scott Dimmer, endorsed by the Democratic Party; Joseph Price, endorsed by the Republican, Conservative and Independence parties; Rachel Roberts, endorsed by the Democratic, Republican, Working Families, Independence and Women’s Equality parties; John M. Kuzdale, endorsed by the Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Working Families and Independence parties; and Ronald A. Szot, endorsed by the Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Working Families, Independence, Women’s Equality and Green parties. Only Price is a registered Republican, the rest are registered Democrats. Because Szot is the only candidate endorsed by the Green Party, he will appear on November’s ballot no matter the outcome Tuesday on the other six lines.At a recent League of Women Voters Meet the Candidates event, the four candidates in attendance spoke on how the position is a non-political one. Green said he understands the point, but disagrees that party does not matter in this race.

“It says a lot about a person, how they’re registered to vote and how their mindset is. I appreciate that comment that was made, but the truth is a person who is progressive will look at a law differently than a person who is conservative,” Green said. “Party affiliation says a lot. That’s why the Supreme Court is so hotly divided and contested. How do you feel about bail? Well they can’t talk about it, judges aren’t allowed to talk about how they feel about bail, but some judges are known to feel that bail is a tool they want to use and they have high bails for people. … Justice should be blind, but one would come to the bench with a certain bias or sentiment that another person doesn’t come with. To suggest if that were the case and political affiliation has nothing to do with how your thought process is, then why don’t we just have a computer that makes these decisions? A robot?”

He noted the same goes for the Hanover Town Judge position.

“In the particular case of the judges, 100 percent of the community is affected by the selection and election of a judge. It may be that you personally aren’t going before the judge; you never speed, you never have gone out without your seatbelt. But, this is an issue of how the community is treated, how your neighbors are treated, how a case of domestic violence is treated. It will be a very important decision of who takes the place of Judge Walter F. Drag for the next decade. That is more or less true for Hanover also. A judge is a judge is a judge,” Green added.

Running on the Republican line in Hanover are Wayne Ashley, Anthony Pearl and Philip Hall. Ashley has also been endorsed by the Conservative and Independence parties and therefore will appear on the November ballot regardless of the result of Tuesday’s vote.


Dunkirk residents won’t just have a judge to decide on, but also a first ward councilperson on three minor lines.

Incumbent Democrat Don Williams Jr. will be the only name in the Working Families, Independence and Women’s Equality primary, however he will not be the only choice.

An opportunity to ballot, also known as an OTB ballot, was filed for the three parties, effectively leaving a space for a write-in candidate.

“What there was was an opportunity to ballot, meaning somebody circulated a petition with no name on the top, just the position itself. The opportunity to ballot then allows people to come in and choose the person who has the line or write-in somebody else’s name. So, technically it is a primary,” Abram explained. “… They’re somewhat rare. It’s not the method that’s normally taken. … It’s a tough way to make it onto the ballot, it’s more of a challenge because obviously the person’s name is on the ballot versus the person whose interested in that spot’s name is not on the ballot.”

As in the general election, residents in every ward will be able to vote for first ward councilperson in the primary. However, only party members are able to participate in primary votes.

Williams is also endorsed by the Democratic Party and Dennis Welka, who has backed out, has been endorsed by the Conservative Party, meaning both names will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot in addition to the winner of the primary votes.


According to Green, primary turnout for local elections is typically low. However, that does not mean it is not important.

“Seventy percent turned out for the primary for president of the United States, who really isn’t going to affect the city of Dunkirk that much (directly) and 20 percent, maybe if we’re lucky on a good day, will turn out to vote on a job that is absolutely going to affect them. People should be turning out to vote, it’s pretty obvious,” Green added.

In addition to Dunkirk’s and Hanover’s judge positions and Dunkirk’s First Ward, there will also be Republican primaries for Harmony Town Supervisor and Mina and Clymer town council. The races for first ward councilperson and Mina and Clymer town councilpeople will be contested races after the primary. The other races may be contested depending on the results Tuesday.

Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. on Tuesday. To find your poll site or party registration, check the card mailed last month or the website. Questions can be directed to the board of elections at 753-4580.