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What you need to know for 01/21/2017

To the letter of a bad law in Malta

To the letter of a bad law in Malta

Judge should have overlooked 'stray mark' to avoid disenfranchising two voters

In a democracy, the people are supposed to decide who represents them in government, not a judge. Unfortunately, Republican state Supreme Court Judge Robert Chauvin’s decision yesterday to disqualify two technically flawed absentee ballots for Democrat Cynthia Young in the whisker-close race for Malta town supervisor makes the incumbent, Republican Paul Sausville, the winner by a single vote. That’s a shame because both voters clearly cast their ballots for Democrat Young.

The problem was, simply, that they also wrote something on the back of their ballots, where the state ballot propositions were located, explaining that they’d intentionally abstained from voting on them. Oops, the fatal “stray mark.”

Where it’s not uncommon for voters unfamiliar with a ballot question — as many often are — to simply leave it blank, what they can’t do is write anything on the ballot in an effort to clarify their abstention.

Of course, the ballots would have been counted — and Young declared the winner — if Republicans hadn’t contested them; something they’d earlier indicated they weren’t inclined to do. “I want everything opened up,” Sausville lawyer James Walsh told the Gazette on Nov. 13. As for Sausville, he said the day after the election, “At the end of the day, it’s a democratic process, and the voters ... make the decision.”

Not quite. Not at all, actually. A judge of the same political persuasion as Sausville made the decision, invoking an arcane election law technicality. People who vote once a year, or even less often, should be forgiven for not knowing some of these rules.

As we said last year, when Republicans invoked similar objections in an attempt to disqualify a slew of ballots cast for Cecilia Tkaczyk in the 46th Senate District race (where the judge ultimately made the right call), no one should disenfranchise an eligible voter for casting a ballot in good faith with some minor technical flaw — as long as there is no evidence of fraud.

The other obvious takeaway from this race: Anyone who thinks that their vote doesn’t count is misinformed.

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