Voters line up at the Riverhead Town Senior Center in...

Voters line up at the Riverhead Town Senior Center in Aquebogue on Oct. 24, 2020. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Five GOP-led towns in Nassau and Suffolk are the latest municipalities to challenge a new state law that will move most local elections to even-numbered years.

The towns, Brookhaven, Islip, Huntington and Smithtown in Suffolk, and North Hempstead in Nassau, on May 13 formally joined a lawsuit filed by Suffolk County and Hempstead Town, records show.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, and the GOP-controlled Nassau County Legislature also filed a similar lawsuit, arguing the state violated its constitution in enacting the new law, and seeks to block it from taking effect.

The law takes effect beginning in 2026.

WHAT TO KNOW 

  • The towns of Brookhaven, Islip, Huntington, Smithtown and North Hempstead recently joined a lawsuit challenging a new state law that will move most local elections to even-numbered years.
  • The municipalities join a suit, filed by Suffolk County and Hempstead Town last month, that argues the change violates the New York constitution and seeks to block the law.
  • Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, and the GOP-controlled Nassau County Legislature filed a similar lawsuit in April. 

Most town and county elections in New York will move from odd to even years under a bill Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, signed into law in December.

Democrats say moving local elections to even years, when state gubernatorial and presidential contests are held, will yield higher voter turnouts. Republicans argue local issues and candidates will get less attention during high-profile races.

North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, a registered Democrat who won as a Republican candidate, said in a statement: “Local issues and local candidates would be absolutely buried by the hundreds of millions of dollars that are spent by national and state campaigns” if the proposed changes went through.

The town board on May 7 voted 4-2 to approve the measure to challenge the election-year law, with two Democrats dissenting.

Hochul spokesman Gordon Tepper declined to comment Wednesday, citing the pending litigation. He pointed to a December news release in which the governor said the new law is “taking a significant step toward expanding access to the ballot box and promoting a more inclusive democracy.”

Voter participation is substantially higher in even-year elections, the governor noted, with 65% of eligible New York voters casting a ballot in 2020, compared with 25% in 2021, Newsday previously reported.

Suffolk and Hempstead, along with other plaintiffs, filed the lawsuit in upstate Jefferson County on April 19, about two weeks after Blakeman filed a similar lawsuit.

Defendants in the Suffolk and Hempstead lawsuit include the governor and New York State, Suffolk elections commissioners John Alberts and Betty Manzella, Nassau elections commissioners Joseph Kearney and James Scheuerman, and the Nassau and Suffolk boards of election.

The Islip Town Board last month voted 4-1 to pass a resolution challenging the even-year election law.

A town spokeswoman said last week that the suit is “early in litigation” and declined to comment further.

The town's resolution noted that moving local elections to even-numbered years “will conflate local issues with national issues and state issues” and lower voter turnout.

Islip is among Long Island's 13 towns holding elections for town supervisor, town council, town clerk and receiver of taxes in odd-numbered years.

In Brookhaven, the town board on April 25 voted 6-1 along party lines to join Suffolk's and Hempstead's suit against the governor and New York State.

The board's six Republicans voted for the motion while Democrat Jonathan Kornreich, of Stony Brook, dissented.

Oyster Bay spokesman Brian Nevin said the town has not decided if it will challenge the state law.

"We will make a decision when, and if appropriate," Nevin said earlier this month.

Huntington Town on May 7 passed a resolution 5-0 to join the lawsuit filed by Suffolk and Hempstead. All five members of the town board are Republicans.

The towns of Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island, Babylon, Riverhead and Southold have not adopted legislation to challenge the state law. Besides Riverhead and Shelter Island, these towns have Democratic supervisors.

Smithtown's Town Board voted 5-0 at a special meeting on May 1 to challenge the validity of the even-year election law.

The vote was taken without any discussion or comments on the matter.

Smithtown Town officials did not return requests for comment.

Michael Dawidziak, a Republican campaign strategist based in Sayville, said Wednesday the towns are "on solid ground" in their effort to challenge the state law, which he said wouldn't help voter turnout.

"If you make a ballot that long, people tend not to finish it," he said.

Dawidziak said local issues "would get lost in the noise of national politics."

"They wouldn't even be able to buy time on national television," he said. "There's going to be nothing left for the local candidates."

Lawrence Levy, executive dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, called the law "a mixed bag" for political parties and candidates. He said the candidate at the top of the ticket could impact many of the results.

"There is the risk that local issues will be drowned out … but it's also an opportunity for a lot of people, who never bothered to pay attention to local races, to maybe do so if they don't want to click a lever for just any old person without knowing something," Levy said.

With Denise M. Bonilla, Brianne Ledda, Carl MacGowan, Deborah S. Morris, Jean-Paul Salamanca, Tara Smith, Joe Ostapiuk and Joe Werkmeister

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Babylon village heroes fountain … High rip current risk … Guns & Pot Credit: Newsday

North Amityville crash ... Montauk parking ... Northport/East Northport time capsule ... Make your own charm bracelet

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