Bill would prevent elected officials and political parties from handpicking successors

New legislation announced Monday would help close loopholes that allow party insiders to hand select candidates, skirting the constituents of a district, in New York state elections.

Sen. Tony Avella, D-Queens, has introduced two bills, S.6868 and S.2040, that aim to stop incumbents who choose to decline a nomination, or who resign after the petition period has passed, from essentially hand selecting their replacements.

Senator Tony Avella

“For far too long, incumbents and party bosses have had a stranglehold on the electoral system, rigging it to their advantage every opportunity they get. This practice of ‘declining’ the ballot line and hand picking your replacement after it is already too late for anyone else to enter the race is nothing short of election fraud,” Avella said.

As things stand in New York, if an incumbent declines a nomination, or if a sitting legislator resigns their office, for example, the Committee on Vacancies, which was implemented by the Board of Elections to fill seats that are vacated due to illness, death or some other extenuating circumstance, step in and help select a candidate.

However, in New York state, where local boards of elections and political machines are hyper-partisan, the interests of the parties often supersede the democratic process.

Former Sen. Daniel Squadron

This process played out recently in the case of Senator Daniel Squadron — a prominent voice for reforms in Albany — who resigned his seat after the petitioning deadline, effectively allowing his party to pick his replacement since his constituents would have no chance to vote on who replaces him.

“It deprives voters of both running for office themselves and electing a candidate of their choosing. Rather, it says to the voter that their right to a fair and free election is not worth honoring,” Avella said.

The second of the two bills would require the governor to call a special election within seven days of a vacancy and stipulates that vacancies will be filled by nonpartisan election. The current law allows for the Committee on Vacancies to step in if a seat is vacated less than seven days before the end of the petitioning period — the period in which an aspiring candidate would gather the signatures needed to appear on the special election ballot — removing the voting public from the process entirely.

Bill S.2040 would chance the law so that an open election would be held in the district in question, ending the practice of incumbents selecting their replacements by requiring the governor to call a special election open to the entire district.

“We need serious reform on this practice in New York and changing the ‘Committee on Vacancies’ and ‘Special Election’ processes is the perfect starting point. I look forward to formally introducing this legislation and giving power back to the voter,” Avella said.

Bill S.6868 was introduced in September and was referred to the Senate Rules Committee. Bill S.2040 was introduced in January and has been referred to the Investigations and Government Operations Committee. Neither bill currently has an Assembly version.