Albany, NY --- On Election Day voters in New York’s 29th Congressional District will vote twice for representation; once to fill a two-year term beginning in 2011, and another time in a special election to fill a two-month term. Much controversy and confusion has swirled since the sudden resignation of former Rep. Eric Massa in March, and Gov. David Paterson is often at the center of some of that.
Following Massa’s resignation many turned to the Governor asking when, and if, he'd call a special election to find a replacement. Weeks turned into months and only after he was sued by citizens demanding representation did the Governor schedule a special election... for November 2nd, the same day as the general election.
A federal court judge agreed that Gov. Paterson had the right to schedule it on that date. The Governor’s supported his decision by consistently pointing to concerns about disenfranchising military voters, the cost of a special for local counties, scheduling conflicts, and complications with new federal voting regulations.
Still, when asked why he didn’t schedule a special election promptly so as to offer constituents representation right away, the Governor said:
“Well it could've been (scheduled right away) but when you have no more people voting in a special election than in a school board election I don't think a representative number of the population is getting a chance to vote."
When asked if politics played a role, seeing as how local Democrats took more than a month to rally behind a candidate, the Governor responded:
“No, it's been pretty consistent with how I have called special elections except in cases where it's so early in the session that you don't want an empty seat for six or seven months."
As things stand now the earliest a new Congressional Rep can be sworn in to represent the NY-29th is November 3rd, one day after Election Day. Meaning constituents will go nearly nine months without representation.
In glancing at two special elections to fill congressional seats in New York over the past two years, one finds that the Governor is correct about voter turnout. However, these two examples also show that a special election on Election Day, or in March, doesn’t appear to greatly change turnout.