By Ted Potrikus
Cooperstown’s upcoming mayoral and trustee elections take place this year on March 15, but if one village trustee has his way, subsequent year voting would move to align with general elections held in November.
Trustee MacGuire Benton says he wants the date change to expand voter access as “democracy comes under attack across America.”
“Right now village residents can vote from noon until 9 p.m. in March and not in November when every other election is held,” Mr. Benton said. “My proposal gives six more hours for voting because we could start casting our village ballots at six in the morning on Election Day. Right now, we have no days for early voting. My proposal would give nine days of early voting.”
“I want to expand ballot access,” he said. “It’s a simple thing we could put on a referendum for the voters to decide.”
Trustees debated the measure during a public hearing in Cooperstown on January 24, with Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh reading a letter from Cooperstown Democratic Committee Chair Lynne Mebust opposing the measure. Among her concerns – expanding what is now a two-month political cycle in the village to a potentially eight-month-long period during which candidates could be campaigning.
“We are not professional politicos here,” she wrote. “Finding candidates for office would be more difficult.”
Her letter as read also expressed concern that were the village to line up with the November general election, village races “would be tied to non-village matters,” including heavily partisan issues putting less focus on village-specific issues decided in March balloting.
Deputy Mayor Cynthia Falk said she is concerned that a longer campaign season – potentially March through November each year — would discourage candidates from stepping forward.
“If I decide in January to toss my hat in the ring for a March election, I only have two months to worry about for campaigning,” she said. “The problem in the village is with recruiting candidates, not in adding hours to the voting day.”
Trustee Joseph Membrino said he had heard nothing from residents about voting access for village elections.
“Who here has heard a complaint, at any time, about the voting hours?” he asked. “The absence of evidence that this is a problem is evidence that there is no problem.”
Mr. Benton defended his proposal by pointing to the Hudson Valley Village of New Paltz, which recently moved its local contest from March to November, and said a November date would not force candidates to campaign for eight months.
A 6-1 vote kept open the public hearing on the matter until the Board’s February 28 meeting; Mr. Benton cast the sole dissent.
With the 2022 contest cemented on March 15, the village’s Democratic Party caucused on January 19 to select its slate of candidates for this year’s vote. Party members chose incumbent Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh to run for another two-year term, incumbent Trustee Richard Sternberg for another three-year term, and newcomer Sydney Sheehan to run for a three-year term as Trustee in place of Jeanne Dewey, who is not running.
Village officials report no Republican candidates to date; the final day for filing as an independent in Cooperstown is February 8.
Cherry Valley Democrats caucus to select one candidate for a four-year term as Trustee on January 20 at 7 p.m.; Otego Democrats caucus January 24 at 6 p.m., to select two candidates for two-year terms as Trustee.