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GOP County Prepares To Sue New York Over Law Hitching Local Elections To State Dems’ Coattails

‘Democrats in Albany see this as an opportunity to expand their power by tying in local elections to those years,’ said Dutchess County Legislature Chair Will Truitt.

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DUTCHESS COUNTY, N.Y.: A Republican county took a step closer to suing the state of New York after state Democrats voted to usurp the authority of county legislatures to set the years of local elections — a move that local officials say will likely hurt Republican candidates and help Democrats.

The Dutchess County legislature, which has 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats, voted 14-7 (with four legislators absent) on Monday to pass a resolution authorizing the county attorney to sue the state over a 2023 law that moved certain local elections, like those for county legislator, executive, and “town officers,” to even-numbered years — coinciding with state and federal elections which statistically have higher voter turnout. Aside from two Democrats who joined Republicans to vote against it, the 2023 legislation passed the Democrat-led state Senate on a party-line vote before it was signed by Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Not all city and village elections are being moved to even-numbered election years. The legislation makes exceptions for county clerks, sheriffs, and district attorneys. Additionally, Dutchess County Legislature Chair Will Truitt told The Federalist that school board races occurring in May aren’t affected since the state law concerns November elections.

The law will take effect in 2025.

The Dutchess County resolution authorizes County Attorney Caroline Blackburn to use up to $100,000 to consult outside counsel while suing the state, should she need it, Truitt said. Fellow Legislator Douglass McHoul told The Federalist that Blackburn has “expressed confidence in her office’s ability to do most of the work in-house.”

The new state law, local officials say, is a ploy from the state to make sure local governments are falling in lockstep with the Democrats who control Albany under the guise of saving taxpayer dollars. Legally, Dutchess County Republicans argue the biggest problem is that the law violates the county charter, which authorizes local elections to be held during odd-numbered years.

“The politics behind all of this is very clear: Democrats in Albany want to do whatever they can to grow their power and they see this as an opportunity by consolidating local elections into presidential and gubernatorial years,” Truitt told The Federalist.

“Dutchess County adopted our charter via a referendum by the voters in 1967. It lays out our local elections … would be held in odd years,” Truitt added. “New York State gives tremendous and very strong home rule authority to counties to create these charters and establish their own forms of government.”

According to local outlet WAMC, “Onondaga and Nassau Counties have filed challenges with similar arguments, and the Oneida County legislature has also authorized a potential lawsuit.”

Democrat legislator Brennan Kearney argued that state law trumps the county charter and that the measure would increase voter turnout, according to WAMC. But Truitt said Democrats’ claim that the move will make voting easier and result in higher voter turnout is a political argument rather than a legal one.

“This isn’t about politics,” Truitt told The Federalist. “We said that New York State has blatantly violated our county charter, they overstepped their boundaries and they don’t have the authority to come in, dictate and change our county charter. The only method to change the county charter has to go through the county legislature. The legislature would have to consider an adopted amendment and then it would go on the back of the ballot as a referendum item for the voters to determine how they want to vote.”

“That is the only way to amend a charter change,” Truitt explained. “But what New York State has done is come in and say ‘We don’t care what the laws on your books are, we are going to come in here and change these election years.'”

McHoul told The Federalist he finds it “laughable when my Democrat colleagues explain how this will make voting an ‘easier’ process for all.”

“Right now, all we have to remember is that Election Day is held every year on the first Tuesday of November, pretty simple if you ask me,” McHoul told The Federalist. “According to Albany’s new legislation, here is an example of what will be explained to voters in my district: ‘Please vote in 2025, but that will only count for one year. You have to come back in 2026 to vote again, but then you’ll have to wait until 2028 for the next election. But, there are certain positions that will still require your vote in 2027; only a few for now, and hopefully less than that in 2029.'”

Truitt explained that during presidential and gubernatorial years, “hundreds of millions of dollars” are spent on bigger races — including NY-19, which is currently represented by Republican Rep. Marc Molinaro, and NY-17, which is represented by Republican Rep. Mike Lawler.

“None of the focus in a presidential or gubernatorial year is focused on local matters like highways and infrastructure. But the Democrats in Albany see this as an opportunity to expand their power by tying in local elections to those years,” Truitt said. “If you put us on the tail end of the ballot during a year where there’s national and state elections, a lot of voters just tend to vote down ballot and that’s what these opportunists in Albany see as an opening for them.”

New York Assemblyman Anil Beephan, who represents parts of Dutchess, told The Federalist the legislation was widely contested in the legislature in 2023 “because we truly believe that local elections are their own animals and counties have the in inherent right to follow their charter.”

“The issues are different, the reasons why people vote are different — local elections are more focused on things happening within your community,” he explained. “Combining it with state and federal issues detracts from the importance of those conversations.” Beephan said the developments in Dutchess County are “part of a much broader lawsuit that many counties are taking up because they truly believe they should be the ones to determine what happens with their elections.”

Beephan echoed Truitt’s comments, arguing that in more purple areas, like the town of Poughkeepsie, voters will vote in local elections “based on the candidate” and oftentimes will vote Republican whereas they may vote Democrat in state and federal elections.

“If this goes through, local candidates are going to be suddenly answering their thoughts on abortion and other state issues when really they should be thinking about infrastructure, public safety, and local taxes,” he said.

Beephan warned the law is a “direct attack” on Long Island and areas north of Westchester — both of which lean Republican.


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