Common Cause/NY Calls for Normal Election Process, Not Special Elections

5 vacant Assembly seats should be filled by the voters, not party bosses, watchdog group says

NEW YORK, NY (06/29/2011)(readMedia)-- Common Cause/NY has consistently called for changes in the law relating to special elections. Special elections, historically, are plagued by low voter turnout and confusion at the polling site. Under current New York State election law, if a special election is called by the Governor to fill a vacancy, the candidates who run in Special Elections are hand-chosen by the dominant political party, with no or little real input from the voters. With a >95% incumbency re-election rate, the approx. 25% of sitting legislators who gained their seats through special election enter their first general election season with the party-granted advantage of being incumbents.

While courts have found that federal law makes it mandatory that congressional vacancies are filled by calling special elections, New York's special election procedure is not expressly mandatory. Traditionally, vacancies in our State Legislature are filled by calling a special election, but that is not the procedure that has to be followed. Permitting the seats to be filled through the election process that most people are familiar with and running in the primary in November would give voters a larger impact in these generally non-competitive districts and allow for higher voter turnout.

"Holding a Special Election the same day as a primary will only lead to fewer voters knowing the Assembly seat is up for grabs and fewer voters at the polls, a decidedly undesirable situation," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/New York. "Allowing the voters to pick the candidates to run for open seats in the State Legislature is the procedure New York should follow."