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Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to sign or veto an election bill that would make "monumental" changes to the state’s election procedures and effectively silence local political candidates during campaign cycles, according to a New York-based election lawyer. 

Just days before Christmas and the new year, dozens of bills sit before Hochul’s desk, including a Democrat-backed bill that would move town, village and county elections to even-numbered years, alongside higher-profile gubernatorial and even presidential elections. Hochul is anticipated to make a decision on the bill by Friday. 

"She has until Friday to sign or veto, and it seems the conventional wisdom now, I think, is that she's going to sign it," Republican election attorney Joseph Burns told Fox News Digital. "That's a pretty monumental change to how elections are run in New York. Truthfully, I'm a little surprised that it hasn't gotten the public attention that I think it deserves. Although as soon as she signs it, I think people are going to get hit with this pretty hard here in the next couple of weeks."

The bill would move county and town elections, but would not affect elections such as city, district attorney or sheriff, as those are governed by the state’s constitution. The bill, if signed, would upend the local elections as they would be drowned out by massive campaigns for state and federal offices, Burns said. 


New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks after taking her ceremonial oath of office at the New York State Capitol on Aug. 24, 2021 in Albany, N.Y.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks after taking her ceremonial oath of office at the state Capitol on Aug. 24, 2021, in Albany. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

"If you're a candidate for your town council, you might spend $1,500 over the course of your entire election. Well, if you're on the same ballot as a congressional candidate, who might be spending over a million dollars – and that's before you even get to the super PACs that might come in with another million, $2 million – are you really going to be able to get your message out?" Burns said. 

He explained that the bill has been floated around Albany over the last few years, and was expected to pass in 2022 but to no avail. The state Assembly and Senate ultimately approved the bill in June, just hours before 2023’s legislative session ended. 


"This monumental shift in how local officials are elected passed the state Senate and Assembly with only hours to go before the 2023 state legislative session ended. It was pushed through each house of the legislature without ever having received a committee hearing. Not one minority party member in either the Senate or Assembly voted in favor of this bill," Burns wrote in an op-ed in September on the quietly passed bill. 

Democrats supporting the bill argue it will increase voter turnout, as high-profile presidential or state elections draw more voters compared to local election turnout. 

Woman voting

A voter fills out her ballot in early voting. (George Frey/AFP via Getty Images)

"The proponents really are focused on one thing, which is that voter turnout in even years – where you have either the governor's race leading the ticket or the presidential race leading the ticket – the proponents' argument is the turnout is higher, significantly higher in those years, than in the odd years. There's no question about that, that's just factual – simply look it up. But that being said, there's there's plenty of counter-arguments," Burns told Fox News Digital. 


The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Sen. James Skoufis, argued in the justification attached to the bill earlier this year that holding local elections during even-numbered years would both boost voter turnout and make the voting process less confusing. 

"The Even-Year Election Bill has a singular focus: to empower more voters," Skoufis told Fox News Digital on Wednesday. "A simple change in timing will ensure upwards of 70% of voters are choosing who leads our town and county governments rather than the paltry 20-30% who currently decide. This will result in a more representative government and, once all races are shifted to even years, yield millions of dollars in taxpayer savings through consolidation of election costs."

New York state capitol

The state Capitol on Jan. 10, 2023, in Albany, New York. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

"The argument that local issues will be drowned out if municipal races are held in even-numbered years simply doesn't hold water," he continued. "Local issues don't get the attention they deserve when only 20% of the electorate turns out to vote. Rather than elevate, that turnout does these local issues a grave disservice. In fact, studies have demonstrated that voters are just as informed about local issues when those races are consolidated as they are if the local races stand alone on a ballot."

Skoufis said that "the right to vote is a foundational freedom" and believes the "more people who have easy, early, and frequent access to this opportunity, the better." 

"Opponents to this legislation should all be asked one simple question: Why are you so afraid of more people voting?" he added. 

Burns argued that forcing local political candidates, who often work full-time jobs in addition to serving in office, to compete against big-money campaigns is "bad for democracy" and "local governments."

"They won’t just be competing with each other, they’ll be competing for the attention of voters who are going to be focused on, ‘What's Trump saying? What's Biden saying? What's Senator so-and-so saying?’" he said. 

Kathy Hochul speaks at the state Capitol in New York

Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at the state Capitol, Feb. 1, 2023, in Albany, New York. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

"We're talking about the people who make decisions about what roads to pave. When the local public schools are going to be open. When the town Christmas tree lighting is going to be," he explained of local leaders. 

The bill, he argued, could even lead to local leaders instead directing their attention to national issues as opposed to focusing on issues such as infrastructure and deploying snow trucks to clear roads during a storm. 


"It opens the door to another concern: These big hot-button national issues affecting who's going to serve as your county legislator, who's going to serve on your town board. Is that really a good thing when, again, these are the folks that are determining when garbage is going to get picked up?"

"Look at any poll in New York state or nationally, and let's be honest, people are pretty unhappy with Washington. And in New York State, people are very unhappy with Albany. Do we really want to inject those hot, contentious, partisan, national and state-level issues into local government? I don't know anybody on the left, on the right, anywhere, that really wants to do that," he said. 


Burns pointed out that Hochul herself is one of the few New York governors in recent history who launched a political career at the local level – when she was elected to the Hamburg Town Board in 1994.

"She started out as an elected town board member in the town of Hamburg, which is a good-sized town, but it's not enormous.… And after that she was the Erie County clerk," he said. "… Truthfully, you would think that she would have a deep appreciation and respect for the work that our local elected officials do." 

Voting sign midterms

Forcing local political candidates to compete against big-money campaigns is "bad for democracy" and "local governments," one critic argues. (Reuters/Emily Elconin)

Burns detailed that potentially moving elections to even-numbered years, combined with a bevy of other election changes in the state, has been "nothing short of revolutionary." 

"It's pretty huge. When you look at what has happened since the Democrats took control of the state Senate in 2018, it's nothing short of revolutionary. Since 2018, you've had the introduction of early voting, you've had just this past year, you've had what amounts to no-fault absentee voting… the redistricting decision," he said. 

New York Democrats were handed a massive win last week when the state’s highest court ordered congressional maps be redrawn ahead of the 2024 election cycle. An independent commission has until the end of February to craft the new maps, which could lead to lawsuits from Republicans if they believe the new districts are too partisan, which would likely throw New York into another confusing election cycle similar to 2022. 

"Now this with the local government… changing when local officials are elected. I would say it's nothing short of revolutionary," Burns said. 


Fox News Digital reached out to the governor’s office but did not immediately receive a response.