Given the picayune nature of state election laws, it’s hardly surprising that the 46th state Senate District contest between George Amedore and Cecilia Tkaczyk ended up in court, then another court, to be decided by lawyers and judges rather than voters. Quite understandable and disappointing.
Who can blame Tkaczyk for challenging the decision by State Supreme Court Judge Guy Tomlinson to certify Amedore the winner — by a mere 37 votes? Tomlinson upheld the disqualification of hundreds of absentee and affidavit ballots for what appear to have been minor technical flaws, as a result of challenges made mostly by Amedore’s people and mostly in places where Tkaczyk had done well.
We’re inclined to side with her position that even if they had minor technical issues, most of these ballots should have been counted because the voters had been eligible and there was no evidence, not even an allegation, that the people who’d cast them had committed any kind of fraud. Rather, they’d made the kinds of mistakes people in unfamiliar situations (as is often the case with absentee or affidavit ballots) can be expected to make: things like a husband signing the envelope of his wife’s ballot, and vice versa, as the 90-plus-year-old parents of Rep. Paul Tonko reportedly did; or people who had moved failing to provide their previous address, as 216 voters did; or casting an absentee ballot too early, as 54 Ulster County poll workers apparently did; or making a stray mark somewhere on the ballot. The law may allow for such ballots to be disqualified, but it hardly seems fair — close election or not — if honest, eligible voters are disenfranchised in the process.
The observation in Thursday’s Gazette story by (Democratic) Schenectady County Election Commissioner Brian Quail, that these votes wouldn’t have been an issue if the outcome hadn’t been so close, is undoubtedly accurate — and all the more reason for the law to be changed. We like his ideas of requiring technical objections to absentee ballots to be filed prior to Election Day — so voters can fix any mistakes — and of limiting objections to affidavit ballots strictly to eligibility issues.
Obviously such changes, even if they were made tomorrow, couldn’t be used to address Tomlinson’s disqualification of some 330 ballots in the Amedore-Tkaczyk race, but a little common sense and fair play by the Appellate Division would probably suffice there. The law should be changed, however, so close contests in the future are properly decided at the ballot box, not the courtroom.