A new state law moving many local elections to line up with state and federal elections in even-numbered years is already facing legal challenges. It's been hotly debated since being introduced, and now, the Republican-controlled Onondaga County Legislature is taking the state to court.
“We will authorize County Executive Ryan McMahon to pursue legal action opposing New York state’s latest overreach against the county’s constitutional and chartered independence," Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Timothy Burtis said.
County Republicans say the law moving most local elections to even years conflicts with the county's charter. Twenty New York counties are chartered, meaning they have a locally drafted and approved law outlining the structure and authority of county government.
“The new law is a bold attempt to dismantle Onondaga County’s legal independence without due process," said Burtis.
The argument centers around the charter requiring elections for county officials be held during odd-numbered years. The law itself includes language to supersede any county charter laws. Section 4 states:
Amends section 34 of the municipal home rule law to provide that a county charter or charter law shall not supersede any general or special law enacted by the legislature insofar as it relates to requirements for counties, other than counties in the city of New York, to hold elections in even-numbered years for any position of a county elected official, other than the office of sheriff, county clerk, district attorney, family court judge, county court judge, surrogate court judge, or any county offices with a three-year term prior to January first, two thousand twenty-five.
Some county Democrats believe more work should’ve been done before announcing a lawsuit.
"It would just make sense before we even start to implement this to reach out to some of these other charter counties to see how they feel about it," said Democratic County Legislator Charles Garland.
“But it's also a legal question, right, does the state have the ability to make that law and supersede the charter?" said County Minority Leader Christopher Ryan. "I don’t know that that’s been flushed out. That’s an initial question that needs to be answered.”
Burtis said they’ve been in contact with the New York State Association of Counties, which shared vocal opposition last year.
The governor signed the law last year after it was passed by the Democratic-controlled state Legislature. Supporters believe the change will increase voter turnout. Opponents have voiced concern with local issues getting overshadowed by races at the top of the ballot.
“If the governor wanted this to happen, they should've given charter counties an opportunity to change the charter and send it to public referendum for residents to vote on," Burtis said.
“A referendum is really the only true way of answering this," said Garland.
Onondaga County is the first county in New York to announce it's suing the state on the issue.