EDITORIAL: Election rule violations are not criminal


With everything the state police have to do these days – especially now with violent crime and mass shootings on the rise – the last thing these highly trained investigators should be wasting their time on is whether election petition signatures are valid.

Election petitions are part of a political process, a tradition kept alive because they help keep incumbents in power. A growing number of states don’t even require them any longer for candidates to demonstrate their eligibility for the ballot.

Challenges to petitions are brought not because the candidate feels a strong moral and legal obligation, but to knock an opponent off the ballot.

That’s an issue for elections officials, not law enforcement. And nowhere is the need to change the challenge process more evident than with the recently closed case involving a complaint filed by Saratoga Springs

Democratic Committee Chair Pat Tuz against Republican public safety commissioner candidate Tracey LaBelle.

Tuz alleged in her complaint that the petition signatures from the United Saratoga party line didn’t match voter registration signatures. Two state police investigators interviewed 19 people over several months, only to conclude that the forgery allegations brought against LaBelle were unfounded.

On top of that, the outcome of the election wasn’t in jeopardy. LaBelle lost last November.

Did Democrats really need to keep pushing this, and did state police really need to keep investigating a case that was moot?

The reason this investigation continued was because it included allegations of a crime. And police likely were obligated to carry their investigation to its conclusion.

They shouldn’t have been involved in the firs t place. The matter should stay within the state elections system, first going through some initial review by a committee, then through the county board of elections or an independent arbitrator. Then if it still wasn’t resolved, on to the state Board of Elections for final review.

Unless allegations of fraud went beyond signatures to a crime that involved bribery or coercion of petition signers, then police should not be brought into these matters.

By going to police, the political parties are, as Saratoga Springs Republican Committee Chairman Michael Brandi said, setting a “dangerous precedent of criminalizing the petitioning process.”

It’s in the interests of the political parties and candidates from all along the political spectrum to keep these challenges procedural, rather than criminal.

If the parties insist on going the criminal route, then the Legislature needs to take that power way from them and put it into law.

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One Comment

Mark Pingel

I am confused.  The June 3 editorial, “Election Rule Violations are not Criminal” seems to be saying that it’s OK to cheat when collecting petition signatures.  Thanks to the “Big Lie” a large percentage of the US population is already suspicious of election integrity, despite studies and statistics to the contrary.  Are the Gazette editors saying that if petition signatures are forged, it is merely a “procedural” issue?  I have collected signatures for a number of campaigns, and I know how careful we were to ensure every signature was valid. It’s not that hard, just painstaking.  The petitions Pat Tuz is questioning have potentially significant problems: block letter signatures, signatures from people who say they didn’t sign, etc.  If true, these are not procedural problems, they are deliberate attempts to distort the election process.  Our election process must have integrity from beginning to end.  Of course, there may be mistakes, but when investigated they will not be systemic and repeated throughout the petition documents.  This investigation is not “criminalizing the petition process”, the process remains unchanged.  The investigation, however, is sending a message to all parties that they have an obligation to follow the rules. People who cheat on petitions ARE criminals, not just misguided souls, and should be held accountable.

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