Albany councilman proposes eliminating party lines in local elections

Local

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Just one day after the 2021 presidential inauguration, a new election proposal is up for debate in Albany Thursday night. Albany Common Councilman Richard Conti says the goal is to get more people voting more often.

“People talk about opening up primary elections to non-party registrants. Another way of opening up the electoral process is to just make it non-partisan so that everybody can participate,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

He says the suggested change to the city charter is seven years in the making, but adds it is a welcome coincidence the official introduction falls on a year filled with intense interest on the electoral process. The Local Law A of 2021 amendment would eliminate party affiliations from candidates up for local office.

“There won’t be a primary election for those, instead in November they’ll be on the ballot. They won’t be listed by party, and everybody can vote at that point,” Conti explains.

He says even though he himself identifies as a Democrat, he acknowledges the current local system heavily favors his party with around 75 percent of registered Albany voters also registered as Democrats and an overwhelming majority of Democratic candidates.

“The winner of the Democratic primary, tends to be — that’s basically the election, and the election in November is a formality, you might say,” he says. “The goal is to enfranchise as many people as possible, it has nothing to do with my personal beliefs, but entirely with representing the entirety of Albany, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Conti claims this leaves the remaining 25 percent of Albany voters without a voice, and when taking low voter turnout into consideration, only a small number of even the registered Democratic voters end up deciding entire elections. His justification argument in the proposal also cites that three fourths of all major cities in the U.S. now vote non-partisan, pointing to the importance of moving with changing times.

“New voters, younger voters especially I think, don’t necessarily identify with a political party, therefore don’t enroll in a party, and therefore they are in affect excluded from participation,” he says.

He says he believes party lines aren’t important when delivering city services — as long as you do it efficiently for the people.

“It forces people to really look at the candidate — as opposed to the party label — and know that candidate, what their platform is, know what their experience is, and to do that comparison without having the label creating a bias in your decision,” Conti says.

If the proposal passes the council and gets the mayor’s signature, Conti hopes it will make it to this November’s ballot for city residents to vote on. If passed, it would first apply in the 2025 election cycle.

Albany would be the second municipality in New York to go fully non-partisan behind Watertown. New York City only allows for non-partisan special elections.

The Local Law A of 2021 proposal will be introduced as part of the January 21 meeting agenda. The meeting will be streamed live at 7 p.m.

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