The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court this week inserted a little common sense into the state’s ridiculously arcane election law by ruling that the failure to add the words “Member of” to 122nd District Assembly seat should not be such a fatal flaw that a major party loses its preferred candidate.
Election law in New York has long been acknowledged as a major party and incumbent preservation act; it makes the process to get on the ballot so difficult and so rife with t’s to cross and i’s to dot that most neophyte politicians need not apply. It was such folderol that almost knocked Brian McGrath off the ballot — an act that would have left the Democratic Party without a candidate.
And that was part of the appellate panel’s reasoning. It made no sense, they said, to construe the law so stringently that a tiny mistake proved to be fatal to a candidacy that was needed just to give the voters a choice.
It never should have come to this, of course. Ken Blankenbush, the Republican candidate and chairman of the Jefferson County Legislature, saw that Mr. McGrath was barely over the minimum number of signatures needed on his nominating petitions, and he pounced on that, apparently figuring that democracy would be best served if the equivalent of a political dirty trick made his name the only one voters would see on Election Day.
Petition challenges are nothing new. But they are primarily used by one candidate to challenge another candidate seeking the same line; this wasn’t the case here. I’ve been covering politics in New York for more than 30 years, and I cannot recall any candidate in a state legislative race trying to kick the other major party candidate off his own ballot. Yet Mr. Blankenbush saw no problem with trying to disenfranchise potentially more than half the people in the 122nd District.
This was an attack on choice by the Republican candidate. Mr. Blankenbush must be feeling awfully insecure if he’s so sure he can’t beat his opponent fair and square that he has to resort to backdoor efforts to remove him from the playing field. It has to make you wonder if maybe Mr. Blankenbush doesn’t have the confidence in his political beliefs that he ought to have to seek this office.
And, to show no one should emerge from this imbroglio unscathed, how is it that Brian McGrath and his team didn’t go out and do the old-fahsioned legwork it takes to collect 1,500 signatures, rather than the less than 600 he got? If you don’t want your petitions challenged, flood the zone. Turn in three or four times as many as you need, and you won’t have to worry about petty challenges.
Word from some folks that know is that the McGrath camp is all technology and no legwork. Rather than relying on shoe leather to get the job done, he and his team are relying on Facebook and Twitter. There may come a day when that technique captures north country voters — but today is not that day, and tomorrow won’t be it either.
Mr. McGrath is on the ballot thanks to the wisdom of five judges. He should count his blessings, and resolve to get on the stick with his campaign. He is far from a household name, despite being a native of Lewis County, and he has to start pounding pavement — not his keyboard — if he wants to capitalize on his good fortune. He can either learn from his early mistake, or succomb to it.