The democratic transition of power might be assured at our federal level, but it is not here in New York. Who would have thought that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the star of daily coronavirus briefings, would morph into the Darth Vader of electoral politics, denying voters the opportunity to select their leaders at the ballot box?
In November, Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-Northport) was elected Huntington town clerk, and took office in January. The governor set one date for a special election to fill that vacancy, and other legislative vacancies in the state. But after rescheduling to June 23, he canceled them, citing the pandemic.
This means that residents of the Town of Huntington will be without representation in the Assembly for a year. Two other vacant Assembly seats (Far Rockaway and Rochester), and a State Senate seat near Syracuse will be similarly abandoned. That’s hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers without full representation in Albany for a year.
In Queens, population 2.3 million, a nonpartisan, special election for borough president was set for March 24. The office became vacant Jan 1. Cuomo first rescheduled this special election (due to COVID-19) for June 23, but in April, canceled that special election as well.
Inexplicably, the June 23 political primaries will continue, while the special elections that would fill vacant offices immediately remain canceled.
What sense does that make?
Based on experience, the June Democratic primaries in Suffolk and Queens will attract small numbers of voters. Adding Republicans, Conservatives, independents and others won’t add that many more voters, if the special elections were restored.
Clearly, social distancing can be achieved to protect voters and election workers. If it’s unsafe to allow voting in person, why risk the health of only Democrats, but not the other folks if the special election is restored?
In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers canceled the April 4 primaries, but was reversed in his state’s courts.
Gov. Cuomo, here is your Ronald Reagan “tear down this wall” moment. For the health of democracy, restore those special elections on June 23, when political primaries will be taking place.
Herbert W. Stupp is former commissioner of New York City’s Department for the Aging (1994-2002).