Chautauqua County legislators are asking Governor Kathy Hochul to veto a bill that would move some elections to even numbered years.
The State Legislature passed the bill, saying the move was made to increase voter participation.
Elected officials in the middle of a term would be allowed to finish out their time in office, and those elected in an odd-numbered year after 2025 would have their term reduced so the office will be up for election again in the following even-year election.
The mandate would not apply to city elections, nor for specific elected offices protected in the state Constitution to be held in odd-numbered years, including county clerk, sheriff, district attorneys, local judges and others.
County Legislator Marty Proctor supported a motion asking Hochul to veto the bill, saying he feels the bill would “diminish the importance of our local elections,” “Our towns, our villages, our county.. in lumping them in with federal and state it would diminish the issues that face many of our residents.”
Legislator Terry Niebel, who also is a former County Board of Elections Commissioner, said the policy would cost counties money, “For example, by combining local elections with state and federal elections you’re going to have more absentee applications to process, you’re going to have more absentee ballots to send out, all of this will result in increased personnel costs.”
Niebel said the Chautauqua County Board of Elections prints its ballots in house at a cost savings of $60-$75,000 a year. If the ballots have to be made larger, he said, the BOE would have to outsource that work at a higher cost.
Legislator Tom Nelson said the purpose of the state legislation is to increase voter participation in elections, which he thinks is a valid reason to support moving elections to even numbered years, “There’s a persistent pattern of low participation in local elections. Across the country, only 15-27% of eligible voters turn out for local elections. In Chautauqua County, it’s a little bit higher at 33%. But in the Presidential election, in the last election, 67% turned out. So, twice as many are turning out in those years.”
Legislator Niebel countered that a larger ballot can lead to “voter fatigue” where voters may make selections for candidates listed at the beginning, but won’t continue down the line with voting.
Nelson responded that cities that transitioned from odd to even year mayoral elections have seen an increase in voter participation, “For example, in Pheonix, Arizona; Austin, Texas; Baltimore, Maryland; turn out rates in those cities increased by more than 240%. I also have to account for, and understand the issue of ballot fatigue, but still more votes were counted in those elections.
The motion passed 14 to 4 with the four Democratic legislators representing the “no” votes.”