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Government & Politics

Moving Elections to an Even-Year Cycle: Good Idea? Or bad?

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January 4, 2024

By Barrett Seaman—

Just before Christmas, Governor Hochul signed a bill that will move many local and town elections in the state that are not already there to even years, so that they will coincide with the national election cycle. The change does not apply to city or village elections or to races for count clerks, district attorneys or local judges, which would require an amendment to the state’s constitution. The governor said she supports such an amendment, but as she said, “By signing this legislation, we are taking a significant step towards expanding access to the ballot box and promoting a more inclusive democracy.”

Most of the rivertown villages have moved their elections from March to November, alternating offices between odd and even years. Sleepy Hollow still holds its local elections in March, but a recent challenge by a group of Hispanic voters in the village claimed that the Town of Mt. Pleasant, which includes Sleepy Hollow, uses a town-wide “at large” system that effectively discriminates against voting blocs like Hispanics. One possible solution suggested was to move elections to November when more voters are likely to turn out.

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The calendar change has not met with universal approval, with Republicans more likely to voice opposition while Democrats—though not all—tend to support it. The Hudson Independent has asked two prominent local Democrats who take different sides to make their case. Tom Abinanti, currently Mt. Pleasant Democratic Chair and former State Assemblyman from District 92 (which includes Sleepy Hollow) applauds the change, while longtime Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner believes it is counterproductive. Here’s what each thinks:

Tom Abinanti

Even-year elections are when voters vote

By Tom Abinanti—

Democracy! “Use it or lose it.” Democracy in the U.S. is endangered. Only robust voter participation can restore faith in our Democracy and save it.

 Too many election dates produce voter fatigue.  Every year feels like “all elections all of the time.”  New Yorkers vote for every level of government: federal and state executives and legislators; county, town and village executives, boards, clerks and highway supervisors; school district and library boards; fire, water and sewer commissions; and more. In 2024, New Yorkers will have elections in February (special Congressional), March (villages), April (presidential primaries), May (school districts), June (legislative primaries), November (general elections), December (fire districts) and others scattered in between.

 Hold all elections when people vote.  Most people pay attention and vote in even-year November elections when there is a governor’s race – and even more when there is a presidential race.   In Westchester, some 160,000 people voted in November 2023, 330,000 in 2022, 170,000 in 2021 and 470,000 in 2020. Every year, important village, school, fire and other district elections attract a small percentage of eligible voters.  Government “by the people for the people” should not be government chosen by a few.

Consolidate, not eliminate. Having voters selecting public officials is a good thing. A vote-a-month every year is not. Most people feel constantly bombarded by politicians proclaiming their election is most important. Voters need a break between elections. So the Legislature passed and Governor Kathy Hochul rightly signed legislation to start the process of consolidating elections by moving odd-year local government general elections to even-year Novembers to coincide with federal and state elections. Next we need to move all of the remainder as well – either all to November, or all to one District Election Day (in May?) in even years.

Nationalization of all elections has already occurred. Consolidating elections won’t distract from local issues. Indeed, maybe when national, state and local elections occur simultaneously, voters will pay more attention—and pay more attention to local issues since they will be confronted with local candidates as they go to vote for the higher levels. We can hope. Our democracy depends on it.

 

This law is bad for democracy and for local government

 By Paul Feiner—

The stated purpose of the law is to increase voter turnout in local elections.  Although more people vote in Presidential elections, many people who vote in even year elections are not interested in local politics and will vote the party ticket. The law will nationalize politics with many voters focusing on the party rather than individual candidates for local offices, which in turn will make it much harder for an independent to win office.

There will be less media attention given to local races, as more candidates will be competing for the limited news coverage at a time when there are fewer and fewer local media covering politics. In a Presidential election year a candidate running for town office must compete for attention with candidates for President, Governor, United States Senate, United State Congress, New York State Senate and Assembly, County Executive and County Legislature. There won’t be much air time or print space given to local candidates. Students who attend out of town colleges but are still registered at home will vote for the candidates running on the same party as the President or Governor.  Finally, if there is a controversial matter, such as a land use decision that had significant community opposition, a candidate for local office who approved it can survive more easily simply because many of the voters weren’t paying much attention.

As written, the law does not apply to a whole host of offices and referenda. Some positions, like town justices and county judges, have constitutional provisions that come into play, and an amendment to the New York State Constitution would be needed to switch those elections to even years. A constitutional amendment would also be required for city elections, and therefore they are not included in the legislation.  Villages are not included in the legislation. School elections are not included. Referendums on bonds can be held anytime (including in the winter).  If a town wants to build an expensive building a referendum could be held any time during the year.  Fire district commission elections for paid fire districts are still going to be held right before Christmas in December.  Almost no one will vote in a town judicial election because there won’t be local races on the ballot the same year. If a neighborhood wants to break away from the unincorporated town and become a village, the incorporation vote can happen on any day other than election day, virtually guaranteeing that few people will vote.

Finally, in the past NYS has scheduled different primary election dates for President of the United States, Congressional seats and  State Legislators. If the State Legislature wants to encourage more participation in voting, shouldn’t the date of the primary for President of the United States be held the same day as the date of primaries for State Senate, Assembly and Congress?

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