A recent Finger Lakes Times article discussed Gov. David Paterson’s recently announced plan to hold a special election to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Eric Massa on Nov. 2, the same day as the general election that would fill that seat for its regular two-year term. The article noted DeWayne Lucas, associate professor of political science at HWS “thinks voters will be able to handle it.”
He noted a similar incident happened in New York in 1992 and elsewhere. “It’s happened in several other states. Texas had one last election cycle.”
Critics of such a plan cite possible confusion among voters. However, Lucas, the article says, “sees little chance that voters would have to sort out two sets of candidates. He thinks the party chairs will change their special election choices if voters pick anyone other than Reed or Zeller in a general election primary.”
The full article follows.
Finger Lakes Times
“Special election raises legal, logistical questions”
Jim Miller • May 17, 2010
The old joke about voting early and voting often could turn into reality for 29th Congressional District residents this fall, thanks to Gov. David Paterson’s plan to hold a special election on the same day as the general election.
The scheduling isn’t unprecedented, but it has raised legal and logistical questions.
If the plan goes forward, Paterson’s office believes people would have to vote twice for the same vacant congressional seat when they go to the polls Nov. 2. A special election vote would fill the seat for the remainder of former Rep. Eric Massa’s term, which ends Dec. 31. A second vote would fill it for the full two-year term that begins in January, with different candidates and a different winner possible.
The state Board of Elections is split on Paterson’s plan.
Board spokesman John Conklin said some staffers believe the governor has no authority to call a special election for Election Day, while others favor the two-vote scenario.
“I’m going to decline to characterize who is advancing which theory,” Conklin said.
Both sides cite section 42 of the state’s public officers law, he said. One section of the law says vacancies occurring before Sept. 20 “shall be filled at the [next] general election … unless previously filled at a special election.”
But another section lays out more conditions: “A special election shall not be held to fill [a House of Representatives seat] unless such a vacancy occurs before the first day of July in the last year of the term of office, or unless it occurs thereafter and a special session of congress is called to meet, or be called after Sept. 19.”
On Wednesday, Paterson announced his intention to call a special election for Nov. 2 but did not officially do so. The formal proclamation must legally come 30 to 40 days before the vote, and that’s where the calendar might get tricky.
If Paterson issues the proclamation on or before Sept. 19, Election Day falls just beyond the 40-day limit. But issuing it after Sept. 19 could lead to claims that the law establishes a deadline that Paterson did not meet.
Conklin said the Board of Elections has not taken an official position on whether a special election held Nov. 2 would be legal.
“I don’t believe we have to actually take an affirmative action to accept the special election. … They notify us that it’s happening, and we notify the counties involved,” Conklin said. “I think if it happened, someone would probably go to court and say which side wins or which theory is the one upheld.”
McKeon said Paterson’s decision to call a special election on Election Day “falls completely within his legal authority.”
If the special election goes forward, party chairs would pick the candidates. The Republicans have settled on former Corning Mayor Tom Reed, the Democrats on Afghanistan veteran Matt Zeller. But Conklin said general election candidates would have to gather signatures, file petitions and, if necessary, face each other in primaries. The result of that is anyone’s guess, but Conklin acknowledged that it could lead to confusion among voters.
“Especially if you have two parallel elections running,” he said.
DeWayne Lucas, an associate professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, thinks voters will be able to handle it. Conklin said he thought a double vote would be unprecedented, but Lucas recalled a New York City race from 1992, when Rep. Jerrold Nadler won a special election and a general election on the same day.
“And it’s happened in several other states,” Lucas said. “Texas had one last election cycle.”
He also sees little chance that voters would have to sort out two sets of candidates. He thinks the party chairs will change their special election choices if voters pick anyone other than Reed or Zeller in a general election primary.
And the possibility of one candidate winning the special election and the other candidate winning the general election?
“It would be an interesting dynamic, but I think it would only work if the election were extremely close,” he said.
The 29th district seat has been vacant since Massa resigned in March.