Voter Guide: Passion-filled election year evokes discussion of the ‘most important of our lifetimes’

Political signs crowd the intersection of Route 159 and Putnam Road in Rotterdam Friday, October 23, 2020.
Political signs crowd the intersection of Route 159 and Putnam Road in Rotterdam Friday, October 23, 2020.

People across the political spectrum have been overheard saying this year’s presidential election is the “most important of our lifetimes.”

Maybe they were saying the same thing four years or eight years or 20 years ago, but there’s no question that well-meaning Republicans and Democrats this year offer some starkly different visions for the future of the country.

Beyond the presidential race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, there are more than a dozen races for federal or state office to be decided Tuesday by Capital Region voters, and the candidates often have wide differences.

This was going to be a passion-filled election even before the novel coronavirus pandemic struck, but the crisis has added its own twists.

Fear of exposure to the virus is legal justification this year for casting an absentee ballot. Tens of thousands of voters across the Capital Region have already voted, either by absentee ballot or during the early voting period that began Oct. 24 and ends today. Records are being set for early voting and also for absentee voting.

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Still, more than half of all votes are expected to be cast Tuesday. If you haven’t voted recently, know that it will be a different experience: Sanitation precautions are being taken between voters; many poll locations now have voters sign the roll electronically; and the lines may be long.

The high number of absentee ballots means that on election night we will find out who is leading in contested races, but if results are at all close it will be 10 days or longer before final winners are known.

Also this year, third parties such as the Working Families and Conservative lines are fighting for their futures: Under a revision to state law that toughens the electoral task for small parties, they must now receive at least 130,000 votes statewide, or 2 percent of the total vote, every two years to maintain an automatic ballot line. The previous criteria was 50,000 votes statewide every four years.

Third parties often but not always endorse one of the candidates with major party backing — so a voter who cares about third parties having a voice might consider voting on those lines.

There are no statewide offices on the ballot this year, but the local seats representing residents in the U.S. Congress, state Senate and state Assembly are all being contested — and in many cases the candidates have enough differences to make for a spirited debate.

Here are some of the races to watch:

— In the North Country, the 21st Congressional District contest between U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, and Democrat Tedra Cobb of Canton has received national attention. More than $16 million in campaign funding has flooded into candidate coffers. Stefanik believes most district voters are loyal to Trump and has often invoked her support for the president, while Cobb has sought to make universal access to health care — and Republican efforts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act — the defining issue.

— Another strong Trump supporter, Liz Joy of Schenectady, has attracted enough financial donors to mount a well-funded conservative challenge to the 20th Congressional District’s incumbent congressman, U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam. Tonko, who has been in Congress since 2009, has been among Trump’s harshest critics, and is an advocate for universal health care, social justice and making a serious effort to address climate change. The district’s heavily Democratic enrollment makes Joy’s campaign a long shot.

— In the 46th state Senate District, Democrat Michelle Hinchey is looking to flip a district that has seesawed between the parties but has been most recently represented by Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, who is retiring. Hinchey, the daughter of the late and legendary Hudson Valley congressman Maurice Hinchey, is opposed by Republican Richard Amedure of Rensselaerville, a retired state trooper. The district also has a write-in campaign by child victim advocate Gary Greenberg, who was denied a Democratic primary against Hinchey.

— In the 112th Assembly District, in Saratoga County and the Schenectady County town of Glenville, veteran political and social progressive activist Joe Seeman of Milton — more often seen on a picket line than a ballot line — is offering voters a stark contract from Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh of Ballston, whose views are mainstream Republican.

— In the neighboring 113th Assembly District, Republican economic development specialist David Catalfamo of Wilton is looking to woo the district’s voters away from Democratic Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner of Round Lake, who has held the seat since 2015 even though the district has more Republican than Democratic voters. The district is in eastern Saratoga County and Washington County.

— Saratoga Springs voters will decide whether the city’s unusual commissioner form of government needs to change to keep up with modern demands on city government.

Those are just highlights, though, and there are races across the board that are described in more detail in this guide. The political gulf between candidates is often vast.

If you’re a registered voter and haven’t yet cast your ballot, the hundreds of polling places across the Capital Region will be open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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