The back-and-forth antics of the 46th State Sentate race are finally at an end, with Democrat Cecelia Tkaczyk clutching a whisker-thin margin of victory over Republic George Amedore.
For Democrats, the significance of a win in the newly created 46th Senate District cannot be overstated. When redistricting maps were released in early 2012 Dems were quick to criticize its slender, arcing, six-county form as a blatant example of gerrymandering by a Republican-controlled Senate. Then Senator Bob Reilly told The Spotlight the removal of Democrat strongholds to the northeast was nothing short of “illegal and unconstitutional.”
How things have changed. Not only did a Democrat unexpectedly win the seat, but that helped to give Democrats a clear majority in the Senate chambers. (This is admittedly a moot point given the formation of a breakaway contingent of Democrats who will caucus with Republicans. New York, New York.)
But beyond a serving of humility to some politicos, the real lesson served up by the weeks-long electoral slog in the 46th has to do with process more than politics.
The figure of note has been 18, the number votes that ended up separating Amedore and Tkaczyk. With more than 126,000 ballots cast, that means this race was decided by just 0.0001 percent of the electorate.
It was close to a tie, in which case no one would be named to the seat — a do-over, if you will. In some other states the candidates would flip a coin in such an event, if you can imagine that. So residents of the 46th who turned out to vote should feel awfully important. But when things run this tight, it exposes the cracks in the system by an order of magnitude.
Amedore was certified the winner of this race for days and even filed an oath of office. That was before a legal ruling, pursuant to a lawsuit filed by Tkaczyk’s campaign, ordered 99 set-aside ballots opened and tallied, tipping the count. There but for the grace of the Supreme Court Third Judicial Department’s Appellate Division goes Senator George Amedore.
And that crucial decision came after weeks of legal maneuvering, when matters were turned completely over to lawyers who fought not to make sure every vote was counted, but to keep certain votes protected while stomping on others.
Our process for the counting of absentee ballots is beyond absurd. Lawyers face off and quibble over each and every slip of paper, looking for any excuse — a stray marking, a township instead of a hamlet listed on an address line (or vice versa!) — to have a vote invalidated. And they likewise advocate for votes in their candidate’s favor to be counted. Images like these from Florida caused America to collectively sigh in disgust in 2008, yet the status quo remains to be repeated over and over.
Hundred of ballots were cast away in this fashion in the 46th, some no doubt with good reason, and others through the legal dance of politics. As a people, we consider the right to vote to be a fundamental right worth fighting and dying for, yet in reality there is a minefield of technicalities and regulations in the way.
Reforming election laws is no easy task. But nonetheless, it should be a priority to institute no-nonsense rules and regulations the public is able to understand without a lawyer’s assistance. Likewise, submitting to the Board of Elections an address that would get you mail delivered should be enough to have your vote counted, even if it’s not exactly what is in the voter rolls. Having a vote tossed over such technicalities is not only silly, it’s downright un-American.