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Is the odd man out yet?



HUDSON—When should local voters cast their ballots? Currently some local elections take place on odd-numbered years. But the state legislature thinks those elections should be held only on even-numbered years and they want Governor Kathy Hochul to sign their bill into law.

But a committee of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors wants the governor not to sign the bill. Members of the County Government Committee of the Board of Supervisors have proposed a statement urging Governor Hochul not to sign the proposed law. The issue came up at the Government Committee meeting June 21.

Officials of some other New York counties have already spoken out against the no-odd-year elections. The Columbia County committee’s proposal is now with the county attorney for review, before it is revised and given to the full County Board of Supervisors for a vote.

The county supervisors do most of their voting at regular full board meetings, and the next regular full board meeting is July 12. Information on when Governor Hochul could sign the law was not available.

The proposed law would only affect elections for town council members, supervisors, clerks, and tax collectors, said Columbia County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Erin Stamper on June 26. The first officials affected would be those “elected in an odd-numbered year after 2025,” whose term would be reduced, according to Spectrum News June 9.

It would not affect elections for town justices, county judges, the county district attorney, the county clerk or any city or village officials. Changing the dates of the elections not currently affected would require an amendment to the state constitution, said Ms. Stamper. And state “lawmakers plan to introduce a constitutional amendment next session” to allow that, Spectrum News said.

The law’s supporters say the change will get more people to vote for local officials, because more people go to the polls on even years, when elections take place for federal and state officials. In addition, it could save public money if some years had no elections.

Opponents of the proposed law say that in even years, national and state issues distract attention from local ones.

Spectrum News, which covered the proposal in early June, quoted the NY State Association of Counties, saying that more than half the county leaders across the state’s 62 counties, Democrats as well as Republicans have, contacted the organization to voice their opposition.

At the Government Committee Meeting June 21, Supervisor Ron Knott (R-Stuyvesant) introduced the committee’s proposed statement by sharing a similar proposal from the Saratoga County legislature. Mr. Knott said that putting local elections in the same years as elections for national and state offices “takes away the importance of local elections.” By running in the odd numbered years, “we can pay more attention to our local issues,’’ he said. In addition, adding local elections to presidential, governor, and US senate elections “puts an undue burden” on the County Board of Elections.

“I think local issues will be lost,” when someone runs in a presidential or gubernatorial election year, added Matt Murell (R-Stockport), Chairman of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors. In addition, he said, the new proposed law was introduced late and rushed through.

Supervisor Kippy Weigelt (R-Claverack) said, “I’ve never seen a problem with off-year ballots.”

In local elections people vote for the person, not the party, said Supervisor Brenda Adams (D-Canaan). She acknowledged, “We hear from more people in even years.” However, “Does this new law usurp home rule?”

Supervisor Michael Chameides (D-Hudson, 3rd Ward) pointed out that some election terms are mandated by the state constitution.

County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Kelly Simmons said, “There’s a lot more work that goes into presidential elections.” She said that local elections to such years would result in “a very packed ballot.”

Other reasons to keep odd-year elections for local positions, the committee’s draft statement says, include:

•The way the legislature approved the proposed law. A bill sponsor indicated that hearings would be held on the proposal, but they were not. The proposed legislation circumvented the legislative committee process, limiting public input

•Concerns that the current ballot counting technology would not be able to adequately meet the demands of the increased ballot size.

So why adopt a mostly-even-year election requirement? State Senator James Skoufis (D, 42nd), the Senate sponsor of the proposal, told Spectrum News: “Right now… in a lot of these local, town, and county elections, you have 20 or so percent of voters deciding the outcome for the entire jurisdiction. Why are you afraid of 50, 60, 70 percent of voters determining who should hold these local positions?”

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