Thanks to an arcane state election law and a rigid state appeals court, the town of Malta will be led for the next two years by a supervisor that the majority of voters didn’t want. And Cynthia Young — their apparent choice by literally the slimmest of margins, one vote — will sit home.
The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Albany may not have been wrong Tuesday when it unanimously upheld a Nov. 21 ruling by Supreme Court Judge Robert Chauvin disqualifying two absentee ballots in the race between Republican incumbent Supervisor Paul Sausville and Democrat Young. Why? Because the voters had written instructions on the backs of their ballots in an attempt to clarify their intentions not to vote on several state ballot questions located there. But in doing so, they ran afoul of a law that prohibits making any kind of stray mark on a ballot that might be used to identify the person who cast it.
The law was passed decades ago to ensure the secrecy of the voting process, so people couldn’t be pressured into voting a certain way. Party bosses did that sort of thing back in the day, of course, so there may have been some justification for the law. Nowadays, more often than not, it is simply used by lawyers of candidates in close races trying their darndest to disqualify ballots that they know or suspect (based on party registrations) were cast for their opponent.
This was clearly the case in last year’s state Senate race between Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk and Republican George Amedore, where Amedore’s people tried to get numerous absentee ballots in known Democratic strongholds disqualified on the assumption (which ultimately proved correct) that they would be for Tkaczyk. And it was clearly the case in Malta this year, where it was known that the last two contested absentee ballots (ultimately decisive ones) had been cast for the Democrat.
And it scarcely matters that it was the Republicans who did it in both cases, because Democrats also engage in such behavior when they can and it suits their purposes. It’s known as playing the election law game.
But elections aren’t games and shouldn’t be determined by judges. The law needs to be changed so that voters’ intent — when it is obvious — overrides their ability to follow directions and abide by laws they probably don’t even know exist. Tkaczyk, who was nearly victimized by the law in 2012, proposed fixing it earlier this year, so far to no avail. She needs to keep trying.