Pretty Vacant: Two Million Voters Have No Voice In Albany

Thirteen seats in the New York’s State Legislature are vacant, most of them since January.

That means roughly two million New Yorkers are without a representative in the Senate or in the Assembly, nearly half of them black, Latino or Asian residents.

The reasons vary. Four Assembly members were forced out of office in corruption-related scandals. Four other seats were left empty after the legislators who held them were elected to the City Council. The remaining five were left without a representative when the former legislators who held them went on to new jobs in government or the private or non-profit sectors.

Voting rights advocates asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March to call for special elections to allow voters to pick someone to represent them in Albany. They were particularly concerned that minorities in Brooklyn and the Bronx, where many of the unoccupied seats are located, have no one in Albany advocating for them on issues like the state budget, hospital closures or funding for affordable housing.

“It’s the kind of situation where they have no voice at all, and that is something that should be unacceptable,” said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute on Latino Policy

“When there is no elected official there, there is silence,” said Esmeralda Simmons, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. “But cacophony and volume is what makes a difference in Albany.”

Voting rights advocate Esmeralda Simmons discusses vacant legislative districts (Karen Rouse/WNYC)

Cuomo said on a radio program in January that he was looking at it. But he also expressed concerns about the number of legislators entangled in corruption scandals and the cost of staging special elections. “You basically have to run a separate election, obviously, so it’s not something you want to do lightly," he said. Ultimately, he took no action.

John Conklin, spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections, said only the governor can call a special election for the state legislature or Congress. Otherwise, it happens in the next election cycle, which starts with primaries next month. Candidates are running for all 13 seats in the Nov. 4 general election.

They will take office in January 2015 – making it one full year that residents in the vacant districts had no advocate in Albany.


For a list of vacant seats in the New York state legislature, visit Gotham Gazette here.