How Do You Cancel an Election?

A state judge canceled all New York City primary elections, including the mayoral race, and the governor called off primaries statewide yesterday. Can judges and governors simply call off elections?

No state law authorizes judges to cancel elections during an emergency, but Queens Supreme Court Justice Steven Fisher defended his order because two conditions for holding an election–the presence of the police and the Board of Election at the polls–could not be met after police were called to the World Trade Center area. 


Gov. George Pataki’s action took the form of an executive order, pursuant to Section 29-a of Article 2-B of the Executive Law, allowing the governor to temporarily suspend any statute or law during a state disaster if compliance with those laws impede action necessary to cope with the emergency.

New York state election law itself provides for postponing elections, if citizens were unable to vote during times of disaster at Title I, Section 3-108. This portion of the law was cited by neither the judge nor the governor.

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Explainer thanks Rudolph McGann, staff attorney with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, Professor Dan Lowenstein at UCLA, and the Office of Gov. George Pataki.