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New York state senator calls challenge to new even-year election law ‘baloney’

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Under a new state law, starting in 2025, local elections outside of New York City, with some exceptions including offices like judges, sheriffs and district attorneys, will move from odd years to even years to line up with state and federal elections.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. James Skoufis, D-Cornwall, said it’s all about turnout.

“Right now, turnout in these local odd-year elections for town and county offices is often 20-30%. It’s abysmal. The even-year elections for president and governor, you can see as high as 70, almost 80%,” Skoufis said.

Republican lawmakers and groups like the New York State Association of Counties have opposed the merits of the bill. However, Onondaga County plans to bring a lawsuit opposing the process.

“The lawsuit’s baloney,” Skoufis said. “It’s as if they’re taking taxpayer funds in Onondaga County and lighting them on fire.”

County leaders including County Executive Ryan McMahon said the law violates their charter.

“There is explicit language in the bill that makes it crystal clear that county charters and local laws do not supercede what we’re doing with this legislation but even that’s besides the point. County charters and county laws never supercede state law,” Skoufis said.

Legal analyst Don Chesworth, a partner at Tully Rinckey, is not so sure. He pointed out there have been three separate amendments in the state Constitution allowing for and protecting counties’ abilities to govern through charters.

He believes Onondaga County at least has an argument in court.

“They may determine that this law is in conflict with the Constitution of the state and the only way to really make this change is to change the state Constitution,” Chesworth said.

Onondaga County has not filed the lawsuit yet and said it’s currently conferring with other counties with charters about the best way to move forward.

“The counties that are run by Democrats probably won’t be interested in doing it and the counties that are run by Republicans probably will,” Chesworth said.

The attorney said the state’s highest court may need to decide the issue, which means extended litigation and potentially significant legal fees. Skoufis said the county executive should be responsible for the cost.

“You want to advance your political agenda, don’t put your hands in the taxpayers’ pocket. Use your own campaign funds to do it,” he said.

A spokesperson for McMahon said it’s disingenuous for Skoufis to suggest the county should not use taxpayer money to protect its charter “when he bypassed the taxpayers to bring forward a law to advance his own political agenda.”

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