TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—While Tompkins County preps for the hotly-anticipated primaries coming next week, its legislature spent part of its Tuesday night meeting discussing whether or not to throw its support behind a bill at the state level that would shift local election years.
Local elections are held in odd years in New York State, a practice rooted in the belief that giving local elections their own campaign season to themselves, as opposed to even years when state or national elections could overwhelm the conversation, would encourage people to be more engaged in their local elections.
However, state lawmakers have come to a different interpretation. Two bills moving through the State Assembly and the State Senate would change local election years for most town and county elections (besides sheriff, county clerk, county judges, etc.) to even-numbered years starting in 2026, meaning they would coincide with the larger national contests held in even years—for president, Congress, statewide offices, etc. The legislation would not impact the City of Ithaca elections.
The Tompkins County Legislature pushed back on that Tuesday, approving a resolution that urges Governor Kathy Hochul to veto the measure. The resolution was introduced by Republican legislators Randy Brown and Mike Sigler.
“The New York State Legislature in June 2023, adopted [two bills], bills that would transition local elections for most town, county, and village legislative and administrative offices, including all Town of Enfield offices, to even-numbered years, beginning in 2025,” the legislature’s resolution reads. “Whereas the Tompkins County Legislature finds the State Legislature’s rationale for altering the year of these local elections unconvincing, and believes that moving local elections to even-numbered years would subordinate local governance in the voter’s mind and bury these races from public attention.”
Legislator Mike Lane, a Democrat, raised the most strenuous objection to the resolution. He compared it to voter suppression, arguing that grouping all of the elections together is the most effective way to generate interest in down-ballot races that may not get adequate attention. Working against that, he said, would be working against voter turnout.
“I cannot believe that we would ask the governor to veto legislation that has the purpose of increasing voter participation in local elections, and that’s exactly what you’re doing with this legislation,” Lane said. “We know there are many elections where voters don’t turn out, and off-year elections are probably one of the biggest situations where people don’t turn out. […] We should be doing everything we can to make it easier for people to vote.”
Lane said the resolution goes against previous legislature support for voter access increases, like early voting and early voting without excuse.
Fellow legislator Lee Shurtleff, a Republican, said the number of races squeezed into one single year will overwhelm voters. Sure, more voters may show up out of higher interest in the national races, he said, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually mark each race—leaving the same basic problem that the legislation is trying to address.
The potentially overwhelming factor could be at play in 2026, he said, counting off around 30 elections that would theoretically be on the ballot at the same time.
“Granted, you’ll have larger turnout for the local elections, based on there being a presidential or statewide elections,” Shurtleff said. “But for those of us that study the results year in and year out, you may start with a huge number of people, almost 100 percent voting for presidents and governors. You get to the end of the ballot, and the number of blank ballots are in the thousands. There are more people going in, but you’ve also got people who just plain don’t want to go through the whole thing.”
Brown, in support of his resolution, contended that local elections deserve as much attention as possible because of their central importance to residents compared to national elections.
Legislator Deborah Dawson, mentioning the workload for Board of Elections officials if elections are all held in the same year, called Lane’s accusations that the resolution is akin to voter suppression “spurious,” which fellow legislator Greg Mezey helpfully defined as “not what it purports to be; false or fake.”
The resolution eventually passed 10-4.
Other News and Notes
- Tompkins County Legislator Rich John said that County Sheriff Derek Osborne and District Attorney Matt Van Houten had relayed to him that the county received a $380,000 Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVE) grant through the Division of Criminal Justice Services. It is not yet clear what the money will be used for, though the state’s informational page on the grant lists intended uses as “equipment, overtime, personnel, as well as focused training and technical assistance.”
- About 25 percent of the county’s population has signed up for SIREN alerts through Tompkins County. John said the county would like to increase that number.