EDITORIAL: Don’t move county and town elections to even-numbered years

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It seems like a reasonable idea.

But when you break it down, it’s really not.

State lawmakers are considering legislation designed to help boost voter turnout in local elections by moving some town and county elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years, to coincide with state and federal elections.

The bill  would apply to county executives, county comptrollers, county legislators and all town officials.

Turnout is traditionally higher in elections when the president or governor or members of Congress or state Legislature is on the ballot than when the town supervisor or county legislator is. By holding local elections at the same time as elections in which turnout is traditionally higher, bill supporters reason, more people will have a say in charting the course of their local government.

The problem with that theory is that by lumping local elections together with state and federal races, there’s a strong likelihood that people won’t be focused on those local elections, which in many cases are equally as important to their lives as the bigger races. It would just be too much.

The issues in local elections are, obviously, much different than they are with state and federal races, as are the positions and issued raised by the respective candidates.

If voters are distracted by too many candidates, too many races and too many issues, then what good is having more people voting at once?

All the talk in a presidential year will be on the presidential race. No one’s going to be thinking about their town councilman next November.

All the air time and advertising and debate space during a year when congressional races or a governor’s race are on the ballot will be devoted to those races, at the expense of the local races.

In an odd-numbered year like this one, the field is clear for voters to concentrate on the local races. We’ve already had a political debate for Schenectady mayor. The race for Saratoga Springs mayor is heating up, judging by today’s headline. A hotly contested race for governor or Congress or Legislature would be competing for the same voters’ attention right now.

Separating the elections gives voters more time to concentrate on the races in front of them.

That’s why school elections make sense in May, when voters can focus solely on the school board candidates and budget. It’s why village elections make sense in March instead of November, because towns and village boundaries often overlap.

Of course, this being New York, there’s a political angle to this bill. Democrats see an opportunity to get more votes for local Democrats, since New York historically supports Democrats in state and national elections. Republicans know that, and that’s a good reason for them to be against it.

But the real reason to oppose this bill doesn’t come down to voter turnout or politics, but what’s best for the voters.

Allowing citizens to focus their attention on a smaller field of candidates and issues each year is better for them in the long run.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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