January 19, 2013
The will of voters prevails, barely, in Cecilia Tkaczyk‘s election to the state Senate.
Will the Legislature and the governor make future elections more fair?
It might be tempting for Cecilia Tkaczyk to wonder if she owes her state Senate victory to big donors and lawyers who know how to make a labyrinthine election system work to a candidate’s advantage.
It might be tempting, too, for Senate Republicans to wonder whether, if they’d just raised more money, hired better lawyers or gerrymandered a little more, George Amedore would have won.
Those would, of course, be the wrong lessons to take away from the 46th Senate District race.
The real lesson is this: It was the voters who prevailed — by the skin of their teeth.
It’s now up to Ms. Tkaczyk and all those politicians from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on down who say they stand for campaign reform to live up to their promises to do it.
Ms. Tkaczyk won, according to the latest count, by a mere 19 votes in the second-closest election in Senate history. That win came after months of court maneuvering over what started out as 887 of the more than 126,000 ballots cast in this race.
That battle wasn’t about platforms or qualifications, but about who could get paper and absentee ballots cast by people likely to vote for their opponent disqualified. In other words, who could disenfranchise the most voters.
What a repugnant abuse of democracy.
Yes, some or even many of those ballots may have deserved to be discounted. But at least 90, the courts found, did not.
How many people lost their most important right in a democracy to some legal technicality?
Consider this: Nearly 800 ballots were ruled invalid in this race.
Has a single voter been charged with a crime? Why not? Did they break the law, or is it really the law that’s broken?
It’s time to fix those technicalities. Many states, for example, have simplified the absentee ballot process.
It’s time, too, after this more than $2.3 million race, to rein in the sky-high limits on campaign donations, and the loopholes that allow deep-pocketed donors to surpass even those generous caps. For all the talk of bringing those limits down, it has yet to happen. Nor has there been any serious movement on the much-talked of idea of public campaign financing, which would give small donors — the people who write $25 or $100 checks — a more meaningful role in the funding of elections.
The only politician who has really put his money where his mouth is has been Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who barred companies contributing to his campaign from doing business with the state pension fund that he controls.
And it’s time to stop the charade of a constitutional amendment on redistricting that does not go nearly far enough to end the partisan influence over the drawing of legislative districts. All the manipulating of district lines by Senate Republicans weren’t enough to make Mr. Amedore win, but that hardly vindicates the current system.
Mr. Cuomo needs to show the kind of political courage Mr. DiNapoli has by pushing hard for comprehensive election and campaign finance reform. So do Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein and Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart– Cousins. Among Democrats, who have so long heralded this cause, there are enough votes to make this happen. And who knows? Perhaps some Republicans will come along.
Watch this one closely, New York. Let’s see who really learned the lesson.