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Hochul signs voting rights legislation to expand access to ballot box & improve voter participation; Ortt: Hochul 'effectively ends local elections in New York state'


Sat, Dec 23rd 2023 03:05 pm

Legislation S3505-B/A4282-B provides that certain local elections shall be held on Election Day in even-numbered years

√ Governor says alignment of more elections in even-numbered years will increase voter participation in local elections

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday signed legislation to “expand access to the ballot box and make it easier for New Yorkers to vote in local elections that impact their lives,” her team said.

Legislation S3505-B/A4282-B updates the election calendar by aligning many local elections currently held in odd-numbered years with statewide and legislative elections that are held in even-numbered years.

"Every eligible New Yorker deserves the right to participate in the democratic process without unnecessary barriers,” Hochul said. “By signing this legislation, we are taking a significant step towards expanding access to the ballot box and promoting a more inclusive democracy. This is a meaningful first step, and I would support a constitutional amendment to align all election years, to save taxpayer dollars and avoid voter fatigue.”

Legislation S3505-B/A4282-B will move many county and town elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years. This legislation impacts all elections for which the dates can be changed through legislative action; changing election dates for certain offices, including judgeships and offices in any city in the state of New York, must be done through a constitutional amendment.

Hochul also announced her support for a future amendment to the New York State Constitution that would align elections for all offices – what her team called, “a fiscally responsible approach that would reduce the taxpayer cost of election administration by avoiding the need for elections to be held every single year.

“By consolidating more elections in even-numbered years when most voters are already planning to participate in an election, this change will increase voter participation in important local races. 

“Voter participation in elections held in even-numbered years in New York state is substantially higher than participation during odd-numbered years. For example, millions more New Yorkers participated in elections in 2020, when approximately 64% of eligible voters cast their ballots, than in 2021, when just 25% of eligible voters turned out to take part in local elections around the state.

“When elections are held in odd-numbered years, away from the traditional election cycle that voters are most familiar with, the cost of participating in the democratic process is increased, particularly for voters who may have a difficult time arranging for time off of work and traveling to their polling site. Democracy works best when all eligible voters can participate, and this new law advances New York state toward that goal. 

“Other states and jurisdictions around the country have made similar common-sense adjustments to their election calendars and have subsequently seen significant increases in voter participation in local elections.”

Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado said, “Ensuring access to the ballot box goes to the heart of enabling our democracy. This legislation will help to align elections, creating a more efficient and accessible process. New York is proud to be a leader in the advancement of voting rights.”

New York State Sen. James Skoufis said, “It is our responsibility to foster an environment where a majority of voters actively engage in their local elections, selecting leaders that genuinely represent their needs. Syncing town and county elections is a win-win proposition which is why a Siena College survey found wide support for the move among all parties and all demographics. It will more than double turnout in local races, save taxpayer dollars, and begin to streamline the extremely unconsolidated patchwork of elections in the state. I sincerely thank Gov. Hochul for thoughtfully cutting through the noise and standing up for democracy – signing this legislation is a transformative win for voter participation, equity, and representative government.”

Assembly member Michaelle C. Solages, chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, said, “As representatives of diverse communities within the state, the caucus is dedicated to ensuring that every New Yorker has the opportunity to exercise their right to vote and participate in democracy. By streamlining the election process and aligning it with a period of heightened civic activity, New York state aims to strengthen voter engagement and empower disadvantaged communities to select accountable representation at the local level. There is no doubt that this legislation is a positive win for the people, and I join my colleagues in commending Gov. Kathy Hochul for signing this measure into law.”

Executive Director Betsy Gotbaum said, “Citizens Union applauds Gov. Kathy Hochul for signing into law legislation to move county and town elections to even-numbered years, and thanks State Sen. James Skoufis and Assembly member Amy Paulin for their leadership in getting this bill passed. This marks a momentous achievement in the ongoing effort to bolster civic participation in New York. Aligning local elections with high-profile races will lead to increased voter turnout, particularly among young people and people of color. This legislation is only the first step in creating an election calendar that serves voters and encourages participation, and lawmakers have committed to passing more comprehensive legislation through a constitutional amendment that moves local elections to even years across the entire state, including municipal elections in New York City.”

Senior Counsel in the Elections and Government Program Joanna Zdanys said, “The Brennan Center applauds New York state’s leaders for delivering this important legislation to move certain odd-year local elections to even years. We know from experience across the country that it will boost voter turnout, promote participation by a more representative electorate, and ensure that more eligible New Yorkers have a say in the decisions that affect their local communities. We urge our lawmakers to build on this moment by beginning the process to move all local elections – including city offices – to even years.”

New York Civil Liberties Union Director of Voting Rights Project Perry Grossman said, “Robust, equitable turnout is a sign of a healthy democracy. By making it easier for all New Yorkers to participate in local elections, this law will not only increase the legitimacy of our state’s elections, but bolster the accountability and responsiveness of our lawmakers. New Yorkers deserve representation that better reflects the will of the people.”

President and CEO Frankie Miranda, said, “Hispanic Federation applauds Gov. Hochul for signing the election alignment bill into law. The new law simplifies the state’s complex voting system, which will encourage more New Yorkers to get involved in our democratic process. A strong democracy requires breaking unnecessary barriers to ensure that as many voters as possible cast their ballots in local, state and national elections. This is especially true right now, as voting rights for communities of color are under attack across the country. As leaders, we must do everything in our power to continue breaking down barriers, protect our voting rights, and motivate our communities to have their voices heard.”

NALEO Educational Fund CEO Arturo Vargas said, “The election alignment bill represents a critical opportunity to strengthen electoral participation for Latinos and other underrepresented groups. Our democracy is stronger when more people participate in the electoral process. We thank legislators and the governor for prioritizing this evidence-based legislation, and look forward to more opportunities to increase voter turnout.”

Managing Director Brendan Cushing said, “Generation Vote proudly endorses NYS S3505B/A4282B, which will align certain local elections outside of New York City with even-numbered year elections. The current system of holding local elections in odd-numbered years leads to voter confusion and contributes to low voter turnout in local elections – particularly for young voters and students. As an intersectional youth-led movement that fights for our right to vote and a just democracy for all, GenVote applauds Gov. Hochul for moving to sign this bill into law, which will ultimately allow for younger voters to be better represented in high-turnout, even-year elections.”

Citizen Action of New York Democracy Coalition Coordinator Karen Wharton said, “Voter turnout in New York in the off years has been abysmally low with an electorate that's older, whiter, and wealthier, and not particularly reflective of our gorgeous mosaic of New Yorkers. The practice of off-year elections disenfranchises communities of color and young people. This reform will single-handedly increase voter turnout. So, we applaud Gov Kathy Hochul and the NYS Legislature for this most critical reform in our march from worst to first in the nation in democracy.”

Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School said, “Aligning local elections with general elections has been proven to be one of the single most effective ways to not only reduce the turnout gaps by race and age, but also to improve governance outcomes so that local governments are better reflective of the will of their constituents.”

President and CEO Sharon Greenberger said, “The YMCA of Greater New York celebrates Gov. Hochul’s decision to sign S3505-B/A4282-B into law and increase voter participation by moving local elections to even-numbered years. Every year, the Y registers voters and shares election information so our members can make their voices heard at the ballot box. We are overjoyed to see community members gain more access, and we look forward to seeing a larger share of New Yorkers participating in local elections.”

In June 2022, the governor enacted the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, what her team called, “the strongest state-level voting rights act in the nation, protecting New York voters against voter dilution, suppression, intimidation and other barriers to voter participation.” In December 2022, Hochul enacted legislation expanding the amount of time New Yorkers have to register to vote, moving the deadline for voter registration from 25 days ahead of an election to the constitutionally allowed minimum of just 10 days ahead of an election. In September, Hochul signed legislation establishing a system for early voting by mail, creating a process allowing all eligible, registered New York voters the opportunity to vote early by mail in advance of an election.

Opposing Views

New York State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt said, “With total disregard for the bipartisan opposition to this proposal, Gov. Hochul shamefully signed a bill that effectively ends local elections in New York state. The touted benefits of this bill are a total sham concocted to hide the Democrat's goal of expanding one-party control to every level of government.

“Local elected officials from both parties have raised serious concerns that moving local elections will quash discussion on important community issues and inject national partisan politics into races for our local offices. As a former town board member and county clerk, Gov. Hochul's personal experience in local government should have led her to do the right thing and veto this bill. Instead, she has sided with the radicals in Albany who are obsessed with consolidating their political control and stomping out any political balance in New York.”

New York State Association of Counties Executive Director Stephen Acquario said, “At a time when we should be keeping the divisiveness at the federal and state levels out of our local communities, this bill does the opposite, burying the local issues that impact New Yorkers’ daily lives at the back of exceedingly long ballots.”

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik said, "On the Friday before Christmas, our corrupt Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a radical, far-left bill to change longstanding election law to nationalize our local elections. As if trying to gerrymander the state and federal lines illegally wasn't enough, now the corrupt Albany Democrats and Kathy Hochul have destroyed our local upstate New York elections by nationalizing them. It is clear they will stop at nothing to rig elections in their favor; New Yorkers of all parties oppose this blatant power grab, and trying to hide it during Christmas weekend is disgraceful. In 2024, Republicans will crush New York Democrats at the ballot box and put a stop to Albany Democrats' radical Socialist agenda."

Erie County Republican Chairman Michael Kracker said, “By signing this ill-advised legislation, Gov. Hochul is complicit in diminishing the public’s voice in the elections that have the most significant impact on their daily lives. As a former local elected official, Gov. Hochul fully understands the negative impact this will have. Still, she chose to put partisan politics above the best interest of local communities.

“Forcing local elections into even-numbered years will upend the idea that all politics is local, forcing every campaign – from the White House to the town hall – to be waged on national narratives. Thanks to Gov. Hochul and New York Democrats, thoughtful discussion on critical local issues like property taxes, public safety, and infrastructure will be drowned out by the big-money politics of Washington in Albany.

“This legislation isn’t intended to increase voter participation or reduce costs; its objective is to tilt the playing field and consolidate Democratic control at all levels of government. Gov. Hochul and her radical allies in Albany have shown they will do anything to tighten their grip on New York state, even at the expense of local communities.”

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