The New York State Republican Party has made good on its threat to sue Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over failing to call a special election for the vacant seat of former Rep. Chris Collins, labeling it a “violation of the constitutional and civil rights” of voters in the 27th Congressional District.
The party on Wednesday filed suit against Cuomo and the State Board of Elections in State Supreme Court in Monroe County, claiming the district’s approximately 750,000 voters have been denied representation in Washington ever since Collins’ resignation Sept. 30. While Cuomo has signaled his “inclination” to wait until April 28 for the next scheduled election in conjunction with the state’s presidential primary, the GOP says that’s not soon enough.
The delay, according to the suit, is causing “irreparable harm by denied representation ... (and constituents) denied the opportunity to vote.”
“To no one’s surprise, Gov. Cuomo is playing politics with the special election, while the people of Western New York are being denied the representation they are entitled to in Congress,” said state GOP Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. “This isn’t the first time the governor had to be sued for this purpose, and I’m fully confident that once again the courts will compel him to act.
“This is an unfortunate but necessary action under this crooked governor,” he added.
In effect, voters in the district have been denied full representation since Aug. 8, 2018, when the former congressman was indicted by a federal grand jury on insider trading charges. He was then immediately stripped of his House committee assignments, until he resigned more than a year later after pleading guilty to the charges.
The April 28 date coincides with the state’s presidential primary, which is expected to mostly involve Democrats and could spur a heavy Democratic turnout. But neither the GOP suit nor Cuomo have addressed that aspect.
Now the party and two petitioners (one of whom is Ed Morgan, Orleans County GOP chairman) maintain that the governor has failed a constitutional responsibility to slate a special election, reflecting his “history of dilatory practice regarding the calling of special elections” and they cite the 2018 election to fill the seat of the late Rep. Louise M. Slaughter as an example.
The suit also cites case law indicating a vacancy should be filled by election in the “shortest space of time reasonably possible.”
Cuomo’s office on Wednesday would not comment but referred to the governor’s observations during a Dec. 3 visit to Buffalo, when he expressed his long-held reservations over special election costs. He said the state might have to spend $1 million (especially in conjunction with new early voting requirements), and that turnout for special contests have historically proven extremely low.
“If they want to pay a million dollars for a special election,” he said of Republicans, “then I might think twice.”
The governor’s camp has also noted that even should he immediately proclaim the contest, timelines spelled out in election law mandate it would occur in mid-March anyway, just a few weeks before the April 28 scheduled primary.
The Republican suit now asks that Cuomo be ordered to slate the election within five days of the court’s decision. It also asks the court to declare the election delay a violation of voters’ constitutional and civil rights.
Though the Monroe County portion of the 27th Congressional District constitutes only a small portion of the eight-county district spanning the Buffalo and Rochester suburbs, the suit will be heard in Rochester because petitioner and “aggrieved voter” Todd Shero lives in the Monroe County town of Scottsville.