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March 3, 2014

By: Jerry H. Goldfeder

Because of 11 legislative vacancies, approximately 1.1 million New Yorkers are not represented in the New York State Assembly, and another 630,000 residents have no state senator.

Although voters usually go to their local elected officials to solve community problems and to pass legislative fixes, perhaps the absence of a voice in Albany hasn't hit their radar yet. Budgetary discussions are heating up, however — so it is just a matter of time.

Typically in American politics, vacancies in public office are filled pretty quickly. When former Sen. Hillary Clinton was appointed secretary of state, then-Gov. David Paterson immediately tapped then-Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand, who went on to win a special election easily.

And when a congressional vacancy occurs, as it did when Gillibrand moved up to the Senate, governors must, under the United States Constitution, issue "writs of election" to fill the position. Similarly, when there is a vacancy in the New York City Council, the mayor must call a special election within three days.

This, however, is not so when there is a vacancy in our state Legislature. As long as there is a vacancy before April 1 in the second year of a senator or assembly member's two-year term, the governor has a choice: He can either call a special election — or simply leave the office vacant until the next general election.

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