Monday, November 28, 2011

This Morning in Court

Sam Pratt reports that Judge McGrath has ruled that Article 16 of New State York Election Law "does not permit him to provide the remedy sought by the Haddad campaign": "Round #1 to Hallenbeck." 


  1. Could you please explain why these ballots were hand carried and not delivered by mail? I'm really not clear on this matter.
    When I had to vote absentee, my ballots were sent in the mail and I mailed them back.

  2. DogMa--Absentee ballots being "carried" by political operatives is a time-honored tradition in Hudson, and I'm not sure why the Board of Elections hasn't put a stop to it. This situation applies not to people who for one reason or another cannot vote at the polls in one election, but to people who have identified themselves as permanently unable to vote at the polls. They don't request an absentee ballot for each election; one is just automatically issued to them. Apparently, at one time, these people designated someone to retrieve their ballot from the Board of Elections for them and to return it to the BOE. For many of these voters, that designated person has changed over time, and the fact that there seems to be competition for carrying ballots suggests that doing so offers some advantage.

  3. Thank you Carole.
    The BOE should put a stop to this practice. Meaning one less problem.

  4. But aren't these ballots sealed?

    How can they be tampered with ?

  5. Vince--The issue is not so much tampering with the ballots as it is undue influence and coercion.

  6. Oh - thank you - someone did request another ballot just for that reason.

  7. If this is against New York's election laws, how can the judge permit it?
    I just don't get it, even if it is a time-honored tradition. Does that make it right? (Apparently in the eyes of the judge - I'm answering my own question).

  8. As one of the lawyers who argued for Mr. Haddad's position in this case, let me shed some light: we knew going in that we'd likely not prevail but it was a fight worth fighting so we did and then licked our bruises as we straggled over to count ballots at the Board of Elections.

    The issue here is only secondarily the ballots; it's primarily the franchise. That is to say that the right to vote is constitutional in both the US and NYS; the right to an absentee ballot is merely legislative -- if the legislature doesn't grant the right to vote via absentee ballot you ain't got none. So for the Court the issue was first "how do we NOT disenfranchise the folks who purportedly received the ballots even if they were delivered in a manner that didn't comport with the statute?" In other words, how can the court protect the constitutional rights of the named voters? The answer: deny them the legislative protection granted by the NYS Senate and Assembly. This was a purely binary situation, a zero-sum game. The outcomes were mutually exclusive. Did the judge get it right? Yes and no. Could we have appealed? Yes. Prevailed on appeal? Who the hell knows? I gave up handicapping hypothetical cases a long time ago.

    The real value of the case we brought -- Ken Dow and I on behalf of Nick Haddad and ably assisted by Sam Pratt and Bob Mechling -- is the light it sheds on this highly troubling practice here in Columbia County, particularly in Hudson where partisan political operatives "carrying" absentee ballots for permanent absentee voters is rampant.

    The statute that governs how the Board of Elections is required to deliver absentee ballots to permanent absentee voters is there to protect us all by protecting the process, the sanctity of the anonymous ballot. It is our most fundamental right and freedom and one we mostly take for granted: the right of each of regardless of our circumstances to have a meaningful voice in our own governance. When the process breaks down -- as it so clearly has at the BoE -- we are all of poorer for it.

    Make no mistake: I'm a bitter and depressed man this morning -- my chosen candidate for Mayor lost, albeit by only 50 or so votes out of 1,600 cast. It was Nick's first time to the dance and he acquitted himself with grace and good humor; he stands higher in my estimation today then he did yesterday.

    But make no mistake about this either: the race was gamed by partisans either favoring our opponent or who dislike Nick. Not sure if the outcome would have been different except for the gap but there can be no doubt that not all the votes cast represent the wishes of those entitled to vote in the election. This brings into question the outcome of the races and the system that encompasses them. And, by extension, it brings in to question the legitimacy of the government so selected.

    I don't begrudge Mr. Hallenbeck his victory and I can report that he was very graceful and polite to me as his position solidified throughout the late afternoon yesterday (something that cannot be said for some of the members of his team in attendance at the BoE as we withdrew our final objections thereby permitting the BoE to declare a final result of the tallies).

    But I do feel a bit dirtier today than I did yesterday, having participated with such intensity in the Hudson political process since last February when we first began preparing for Nick's run. I hope that we can all bring enough pressure to bear on the BoE to bring its procedures and practices into conformity with the statutory requirements so that future campaigns will be more certain, less prone to litigation and generally not result in an increase in our collective cynicism.