New York Republicans Sue the State Over Law To Move All Local Elections to Even Years

WASHINGTON, D.C. — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed a law at the end of last year moving certain  local elections to even years, and over the past month, eight counties have sued the state, asking courts to block the law.

In late December 2023, Hochul signed into law the Even Year Election Law, which moves multiple county and town elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years with the goal of reducing voter fatigue

“Every eligible New Yorker deserves the right to participate in the democratic process without unnecessary barriers,” Hochul said in a release when she signed the bill. “By signing this legislation, we are taking a significant step towards expanding access to the ballot box and promoting a more inclusive democracy.”

She explained that when local elections are held in odd-numbered years, it makes it more difficult for people to vote in those races because they are not the traditional election cycles they are used to and they may have a hard time taking time off work and traveling to polling sites every single year.

Hochul also said that she would support an amendment to the state constitution that would align elections for all offices because it would save taxpayer dollars and “avoid voter fatigue.” 

Voter turnout is higher for local elections held in even-numbered years because many people are already planning on voting, according to Hochul’s release. Specifically, in 2020, approximately 64% of eligible voters cast their ballots but in 2021, only 25% of eligible voters turned out in New York local elections.

Numerous legislators expressed their support for the legislation, including Westchester County Executive George Latimer (D).

“A number of counties already hold even-numbered year elections for County Executive and County Legislator, and this would standardize that across the board as well as serving as a positive result for County races in Westchester,” Latimer said in Hochul’s release. 

Over the last two months, eight Republican counties filed lawsuits in state court, seeking to block the law. 

Onondaga and Nassau counties filed lawsuits on March 22 and April 5 respectively, and there is a motion to consolidate the two cases in Onondaga County, since they filed their case first.

Then, several other counties across the state filed lawsuits of their own: Oneida County on April 8, Rensselaer County on April 15, Orange County on April 17, Dutchess and Suffolk counties on April 19 and Rockland County on April 22. New York has not yet responded to any of these lawsuits.

The counties are all arguing that this new law violates Article IX of the New York Constitution, which gives local governments the authority to determine when elections are held for local officials.

Rockland County, which filed the most recent lawsuit against the law, argues in its complaint that the legislation “involuntarily and forcibly seeks to eliminate local autonomy over local government affairs—including the length of elected officials’ terms; the frequency of local elections; and the period of local elections—by the authoritarian measure of dictating that all elections shall be in even-numbered years.”

All six counties assert that the Legislature exceeded its authority to meddle in local government affairs since the even year election law was neither a special or general law.

While they all present this argument, some counties discussed more technical legal issues as well. Onondaga and Oneida counties in upstate New York argue that a clause in Article IX protects all local laws passed before 1963, and the counties’ charters — both passed in 1961 — scheduled local elections for odd numbered years.  

Long Island’s Nassau County claims that the county’s local election years were established by a charter and referendum in 1936, so the county can only change its election years under a similar process. 

Despite these nuances, Onondaga and Nassau counties may consolidate their cases, and there’s a possibility that all six counties consolidate their lawsuits into one case against the state.

Read the Even Year Election Law here.

Learn more about these cases here.

This story was updated on May 7, 2024 at 1:15 p.m. EDT to add two lawsuits in Orange and Suffolk counties.