A Call to Support Candidates in Opposition to the State Takeover of our Local Elections
This year, more than ever, we need to support candidates who see local government as an opportunity for service to the community, not for power.
The Democratic supermajorities in the State Senate and Assembly passed legislation that will cancel local elections. Only the Governor's signature stands in the way of making their plan a reality.
In an Op-Ed for the Times-Union, State Senator James Skoufis (D - Orange County) says the quiet part outloud: This plan is a power-grab.
The New York State Democrats' plot to cancel local elections is not about an informed electorate making the best collective choices for their local government: It's about consolidating power, transforming our local governments into Democratic Party-controlled branches of State Government.
They want "power resting safely in the hands of elected officials," which he says does not exist right now. Instead, according to Skoufis, we have to suffer our local officials "blatantly disregarding the needs of the very people they were elected to represent."
First, for every example that Skoufis can give of an "insufferable" local official "blatantly disregarding" the electorage, I'll show you 2 at the state and federal level--you know, those elected in even years. My bag is quite full, and includes the Governor, the past Governor, dozens of Skoufis's colleagues, and probably even Skoufis himself.
But most elected officials don't see themselves as having much "power" of any kind, but rather responsibilities in service of their community. That's why we volunteer to run for public offices that, in many instances, come with an extremely low paycheck--especially compared to the part time $140,000 paycheck that our state legislators collect.
To draw attention away from their actual intentions, Skoufis and the Democratic Party have created two strawman arguments:
- Canceling local elections saves taxpayer money.
- Republicans oppose this plan because they are afraid of more people voting.
While I certainly appreciate the time it took to build this strawman, my opposition--and the collective opposition to this plan--is the blatant power grab by the State Democratic Party, just like their gerrymandering gambit and their expansion of public campaign financing to benefit high-dollar donations to incumbents.
First, the taxpayer savings are non-existent because we will still have Constitutionally-required odd-year elections for judges, which will have even lower turnout under the Democratic plan.
The problem of low voter turnout is a problem of engagement and competitive elections.
Many (if not most) local elections are uncontested or only offer a nominal contest because of the demographics. Most New York City Council races, plus the Mayor's race, suffers this problem on the Democratic side, while many upstate races see the same problem on the Republican side. The local demographics simply don't support a competitive two-party race, and the election is decided in the Primary or by local committee.
The obvious solution to this specific problem is to replace primaries with run-off elections. To use the example of the New York City mayor's race, wouldn't the election be much more competitive--attracting a more engaged voter turnout--if the choice was between the top 2 most popular candidates (regardless of party) rather than the top Democrat (elected only by a small percentage of enrolled Democrats) and the top Republican (also elected by a small percentage of Republicans)?
(Some Democrats, like my opponent, don't want competitive elections. They'd rather put campaign money to other uses.)
In terms of solving the problem of voter engagement, this is direcly caused in local elections by a lack of local media interest in local elections plus the lack of financial resources of most local candidates to reach out to all voters. If the voters do not know the local issues, and they do not know the local candidates, what motivates them to vote?
Cancelling local elections compounds both problems. Yes, more people will vote for their town council or county legislators, but fewer of those votes (as a proportion) will be informed votes. Many voters will default to party line votes on national issues because they will not know the local candidates. Local candidates and local issues will be crowded out by state and federal earned media and financial resources--financial resources that, as I pointed out, are incredibly subsidized by public financing that benefits high-dollar donations made mostly to incumbents.