The section of state election law that forces candidate to remain on the ballot months before an election – even if the individual wants to get off it and even if some criminal charge makes the person’s candidacy undesirable – is archaic and unnecessary.
But it is the law. And Gov. Kathy Hochul shouldn’t be allowed to get around it just because she made a poor pick for lieutenant governor.
On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, Hochul’s hand-picked and staff-vetted running mate, resigned after being arrested and indicted on charges of campaign fraud.
The stain of Benjamin’s alleged corruption will follow Hochul through the June 28 Democratic Party primary and the Nov. 8 general election, should she make it that far.
The last thing she needs for her candidacy is being connected to a new political scandal for the next eight months.
But the law gives candidates only four days to decline a nomination before locking them onto a ballot position for the duration of the election cycle. And the only way to get Benjamin off the ballot is if he dies, runs for another office or moves out of state.
So if a candidate has a family situation or illness, decides later that they don’t want to take on the candidacy, or has some other reason for wanting off the ballot — say, they need time to fight felony charges — they must remain on the ballot anyway.
The existing law does help ensure a degree of stability and continuity in the slate of candidates presented to voters. It would be a disservice to voters and to other a candidate’s opponents if the slate could change from day to day. Making it easy to get on and off the ballot also could potentially undermine the system for regulating campaign finances and disrupt public filings of revenue and expenditure documents.
Still, the really short time frame for withdrawing from a ballot so many months ahead of an election seems unreasonable. The law needs to be changed to allow more flexibility.
But it shouldn’t be changed just to accommodate the governor’s political ambitions.
On Wednesday, a downstate Democratic assemblywoman proposed a bill to enable a candidate charged with a crime before an election to voluntarily withdraw the name and allow a new candidate to be selected.
She’s hoping it would apply to the current election cycle to help the governor dump Benjamin and distance herself from him.
This law has been around for years. Where was the urgency to change it before?
Lawmakers should indeed change the law, but only on the stipulation that it not take effect until next year.
To change it just for Hochul would be another example of how political favoritism, power and corruption continues to rule state government.