Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a number of bills into law...

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a number of bills into law on Friday. Credit: AP

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday signed a new law that could radically transform local elections in New York, switching them to even-numbered years to coincide with gubernatorial and presidential elections.

It was one of many bills the Democratic governor signed or vetoed Friday, as part of the typical rush to act on bills just before New Year’s Day. Other new laws will increase the number of judges statewide to handle courtroom backlogs; require insurance coverage for biomarker testing for cancer patients; prohibit use of certain pesticides; and outlaw any “wildlife derby” for coyotes and some other animals in which the objective is to take wildlife.

The most important political measure will switch most local elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years. New York City is unaffected.

Advocates for the new law argue that New York traditionally has higher voter turnout in even-numbered years than in odd years when town and county offices are on the ballot.

But the key political point is Democrats historically have a much better turnout during gubernatorial and, particularly, presidential years. 

The law will become effective in 2026, officials said.

“By signing this legislation, we are taking a significant step towards expanding access to the ballot box and promoting a more inclusive democracy,” Hochul, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Republicans criticized the new law as an attempt to nationalize local elections and boost Democrats' chances in contests for county executive, town supervisor and other local offices.

Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) said: “The touted benefits of this bill are a total sham concocted to hide the Democrat's goal of expanding one-party control to every level of government.”

Democrats and a number of government watchdog groups praised Hochul's decision, citing the prospect of higher voter turnout and reduction in “voter fatigue” from going to the polls every year.

“We know from experience across the country that it will boost voter turnout, promote participation by a more representative electorate, and ensure that more eligible New Yorkers have a say in the decisions that affect their local communities,” Joanna Zdanys, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said in a statement.

State Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont), chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, said: “By streamlining the election process and aligning it with a period of heightened civic activity, New York State aims to strengthen voter engagement and empower disadvantaged communities to select accountable representation at the local level.”

Republicans contend the move is about political power and election advantage, not good government.

“Moving local elections to even-numbered years will completely shift the focus away from local candidates, campaigns and community concerns,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) said Friday. “Those critical elections will now be shoved aside and sent down-ballot by bigger races on statewide and national scales.”

Hochul faced a weekend deadline for signing or vetoing a number of bills the State Legislature approved earlier this year.

The pesticide bill will prohibit the use of “neonicotinoid pesticides” on corn and wheat seeds, as well as turf. Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan) called them one of the most “ecologically destructive pesticides since DDT.”

The law won't take effect until 2027. The nonprofit New York Farm Bureau, which represents agricultural interests, said the timing will allow for training and development of regulations as well as potential waivers in some cases. The bureau applauded Hochul for negotiating some flexibility into the new law.

The hunting bill bans any “wildlife derby” or similar competition for killing animals such as squirrels, coyotes, woodchucks and foxes. It won't apply to more established competitions for fish, bear, turkey or white-tailed deer. The law takes effect in November.

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