Tweaks should reduce election law gaming
Last fall’s 46th Senate District race between Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk and Republican George Amedore was so close that it came down to the tally of absentee and affidavit ballots after Election Day to determine the winner — Tkaczyk, by a mere 18 votes. Whenever there’s a race that close (e.g., Bush vs. Gore and Florida’s “hanging chads” 13 years ago), lawyers for the opposing sides invariably go into overdrive to identify and disqualify as many ballots cast by members of their opponent’s party as they can.
That’s certainly what seemed to be going on in Tkaczyk vs. Amedore, and it dragged on for months, ugly all the way. That was especially so on Amedore’s side, which accounted for the large majority of challenges, mostly in Tkaczyk’s Election Day strongholds. Legal though they may have been, they were also quite picayune; and aside from threatening to disenfranchise voters who, in most cases had committed nothing more than honest mistakes, they nearly affected the outcome of the election as well as the balance of power in the New York state Senate.
The proceedings got the attention of election officials and politicians around the state, and now a laudatory effort to tweak the law has gotten under way, with Tkaczyk leading the way. One of the bills she introduced last week would deem as qualified any voter who is in “substantial compliance” with the rules. It would also remove the requirement that affidavit voters list their previous address — a “flaw” cited in more than 200 of Amedore’s challenges. Another bill would eliminate special treatment for the absentee ballots submitted by election inspectors. (More than 50 Ulster County elections inspectors cast their absentee ballots too early.)
There is reportedly strong support for these bills in the Democratic Assembly, and bipartisan support in the more-evenly-divided Senate. That’s not surprising because, even though the Republicans may have been guilty of working overtime to invalidate Democratic votes in last fall’s 46th Senate District race, one has no trouble imagining similar behavior from the Democrats if the shoe were on the other foot — i.e. their candidate holding a slim lead with the preponderance of uncounted ballots in Republican strongholds.
By no means should these bills be considered the final word on the subject, though they certainly seem like a good starting point.