Citizens Union is pleased the needed special election to fill 11 seats in the State Legislature has been scheduled by Governor Cuomo. We maintain that critical reforms need to be put into place, especially since special elections have the lowest voter turnout rates of any elections in New York. New Yorkers are both unable to participate in the process of nominating special election candidates and are not turning out to essentially ratify the choices of party leaders.
Special elections for state legislators are called at the discretion of the Governor. This year he chose to delay holding special elections for the 11 empty seats until after the budget season, leaving several districts without representation during a critical time in the legislative session.
Last year Citizens Union released an update to its report Circumventing Democracy, which found that at least 29 percent (61 members) of all 213 legislators seated in 2017 were first elected in a special election, up 6 percentage points from 2015. In the New York State Assembly, one third of the entire body, or 49 of 150 legislators, were first elected in a special election. In the New York State Senate, 19 percent, or 12 of 63, of its members were first elected in a special election. Party leaders select the candidate of their choosing for special elections behind closed doors, circumventing primaries that are open to everyday registered party members, and denying them the ability to elect their party’s nominee.
Citizens Union urges the New York State Legislature and Governor to prioritize one of the following reforms to open up the process to voters of selecting the candidates that will fill vacancies in the State Legislature:
- Holding a party primary election at least thirty days in advance of the special election; or
- Holding one non-partisan special election along the lines of the current process for filling vacancies in the New York City Council in which the ballot is open to all who can petition on to it.