New York lawmakers in Albany passed legislation this session to move most town and county elections to even-numbered years. The reason? More people vote during elections that take place in even-numbered years because that’s when presidential and congressional elections take place.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has yet to sign the bill into law, but she is expected to.
Capital Tonight spoke with Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny, who chairs the Democratic Caucus of Elections Commissioners, which hasn’t taken a formal position on the issue.
“This is the purview of the Legislature and now that the Legislature has passed it, assuming the governor signs it, we have to enforce the law so that’s what we plan to do,” Czarny explained.
Czarny is skeptical that the new law will save money because there are still multiple races that can either be held in any year or are constitutionally obligated to be held during odd years.
“Any judicial race would not be affected. Supreme Court justices. Town justices. Any other kind of judicial race,” he said. “Also, what will not be affected are any races that happen inside cities are protected by the Constitution."
Those include mayoral races.
While Democratic lawmakers have said they will attempt to make changes to the constitution to move city races to even number years, any effort to do so will take time.
According to Jude Seymour, the Republican elections commissioner for the Jefferson County Board of Elections, like Onondaga, Jefferson County stands prepared to execute any changes to elections that the Legislature and the governor agree upon.
Having said that, Seymour is skeptical that this “major reimagining” of New York elections will accomplish the bill sponsors' aims.
He also believes it will raise serious, unintended consequences.
“Boards of Elections have pointed out potential problems with the administration of more contests in even years, including the length of the ballot,” Seymour wrote in an email to Capital Tonight. “I'm also skeptical that our costs will diminish significantly in odd years, especially when a county-wide office remains on the ballot.”
Seymour also looks at staggered elections as “a feature not a bug."
“They protect against a wholesale change of government based on the whims that may not last until the next election,” Seymour wrote. “Alexander Hamilton and James Madison warned us centuries ago to protect against factions breaking apart our republic. I think putting all the elections in one year makes that harder to prevent.”
Capital Tonight reporter Kate Lisa spoke with Michael Zurlo, president of the state Association of Counties and the Clinton County administrator who said that the change will limit the amount of attention that local elections receive.
But Democratic bill sponsors argue that moving these elections from odd-numbered years would increase voter turnout.
Czarny said his experience in Onondaga County has proven that to be the case.
“In even numbered years since 2009, we averaged 63% turnout. In odd numbered years, we averaged 32% turnout. That’s a huge difference. That’s double,” he said.