I went to the local Price Chopper grocery store yesterday to buy some items. There were two people at a table in the entryway. One asked if I was registered to vote. I said truthfully, “Always.” They were pleased as they were participating in National Voter Registration Day. I had no idea.
Then I asked them about a piece of New York State legislation, Assembly Bill A4282B/Senate Bill S3505B, moving certain elections to even-numbered years.
It was passed in June 2023, but I hadn’t heard about it being signed by Governor Kathy Hochul. As it turns out, at least as of September 18, she had not. There are over 400 bills that “need to be sent to her desk for signature – or veto. “
Reinvent Albany, the Citizens Union of the City of New York, and Common Cause New York support the legislation. “We believe this legislation will strengthen local democracy in the state by bringing more people to vote for local offices, leading to a more representative voting population and a stronger mandate for elected officials.
“The benefits of holding local elections during even-numbered (‘on-cycle’) years have been thoroughly documented in research, and dozens of towns, cities, and states have successfully made that transition in the previous decade. Good government groups and election advocates support this reform, as does the public.”
Conversely, John Quigley, Ulster County Board of Elections Commissioner (Republican), notes, “While the intentions of these bills may appear well-intentioned, the move to align certain local elections with even-numbered years carries significant risks for voters. Decreased turnout, diluted focus on local issues, limited voter engagement, reduced accountability, and the potential for increased partisanship are all concerns that should be carefully considered. “
Do I agree with a branch of Common Cause or a Republican BoE official? The latter, big time. The voter initiative folks I met agreed with me, FWIW. There may be a greater voter turnout because of the top of the ballot. But will the voters have time/inclination to look at the local issues and candidates?
The even-numbered years encompass the US House of Representatives, state Assembly, and state Assembly races. Some of the even years will have the Presidential elections, the others, the statewide races for governor, comptroller, and attorney general. The US Senate races will also fall in an even year. How are local issues and candidates going to get the oxygen they need?
An interesting element of the bill is that it only pertains to local elections outside New York City. This rubs me wrong and could aggravate the ongoing upstate/downstate fissure.
Moreover, when vacancies exist in many offices, the state Constitution promptly mandates a special election. So, odd-year elections wouldn’t be eliminated anyway. Also, I think a change of such magnitude should be addressed by Constitutional amendment, not legislation.
So I wrote to the governor. I do that too infrequently, but this issue roiled this old poli sci major’s stomach.