Counties Implore Governor to Reject Election Calendar Bill
By Joe Mahoney
New York State Association of Counties leaders are stepping up efforts to convince Gov. Kathy Hochul to veto a measure that would shift some municipal elections from odd-numbered to even-numbered years.
The measure was passed by both houses of the Legislature in June despite the fact there was no push for it by any groups representing local governments.
“We didn’t hear any local governments calling for this change," said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario.
NYSAC leaders are arguing local elections get the attention they deserve when they are held in off years, assuring they are not overshadowed by the increasingly vitriolic debates that now dog national and statewide elections.
While the sponsors of the legislation in question claim the proposal promises to reduce "voter confusion," a mix of both Democratic and Republican county government leaders point out the legislation would achieve no cost savings while threatening to further reduce voter participation in local elections that would remain on odd year calendars.
The bill has not yet moved to Gov. Hochul's desk. So far, she has not taken a public stance on the bill, though she is facing internal political pressure to sign it once it is transmitted to her.
The simple message her administration is getting from NYSAC leaders: Please veto it.
Rather than alleviate voter confusion, the proposed changes requiring some local elections be stuffed into the even-year election ballots would leave many voters bewildered and overwhelmed, NYSAC leaders say.
"Right now if counties want to change their election cycle they can on their own," Acquario said. "There has really been no problem that has been identified, other than a vague argument that this is somehow pro-democracy and would encourage more people to turn out."
Acquario voiced skepticism about the stated goals of the legislation, pointing out it leaves out elections for school boards.
"What about the children?" he asked rhetorically. "Don't the children deserve a greater democracy? If this idea is so good for a county legislature, why aren't we including school districts and encouraging more people to support their children and the future promises of tomorrow? "
Oddly, the legislation would result in no calendar changes for several categories of elections, such as those for certain local officials, including mayors and city councilors, as well as county clerks, sheriffs and district attorneys. A change in the cycle for the latter three county offices would require an amendment to the state Constitution.
The odd-year elections would very likely see further reductions in voter participation once the contests for county executives and county board seats are tacked onto the even-year ballots, Acquario said.
State elections law, he said, should not be "weaponized' in a way designed that gives one political party an edge over another.
Should Hochul approve the bill, the calendar changes would begin to take effect in 2025.
NYSAC officials believe that if county executive candidates had to run in even numbered years, those contests would be drowned out by the public and media focus on national and statewide elections on the same ballots.
"The theme we are emphasizing is the need to keep local elections local," Acquario said. "In many ways, what this legislation really amounts to is making local elections national or statewide. It’s a solution looking for a problem."
The proposal to move many odd-year elections to even-numbered years would exempt the New York City local election calendar. Some good government advocates have been calling for the city elections to be aligned with the calendar for national and statewide elections.
While the legislation headed to Hochul's desk does not deal with the New York City elections, it is still getting support from Citizens Union, offering arguments that echo those of the bill sponsors.
“Moving local elections to even-numbered years will dramatically increase voter turnout and make the electorate more representative of the population," Citizens Union said in a statement.
But NYSAC is taking the position that changes to the election calendar should be based on the will of the people of the state.
"The people are sophisticated enough and should be given the right to vote on this on a ballot," Acquario said. "Weaponizing election law against local government officials is terrible public policy."
A resolution recently approved by NYSAC, sums up several of the reasons for why the organization is vigorously opposing the bill.
"Regardless of increased or decreased turnout, the legislation violates constitutionally protected home rule powers by preempting county charters, local laws, local referenda, and forcing short-term changes to the term of an elected official," the resolution states in part.