A Hometown View From Albany
Last week, at the swearing-in ceremony of Republican Senator David Storobin, the successor to the corrupt former Democratic state Senator Carl Kruger, one state senator, a Democrat, whispered to me that it was like trading one criminal for another because Storobin stole the election from his opponent, City Councilman Lew Fidler. It was the absentee ballots, I was told.
It harkened back to a phrase started by corrupt Democrats during New York City’s Tammany Hall era (1789 – 1968) and the phrase, “Vote early and vote often”.
“Unfortunately what the judge in this case did was in effect give us an early voting mechanism, which is far beyond what he should be empowered to do as a judge,” said Assemblyman Alan Maisel, a Fidler ally. “People voted twice but I don’t think the votes were counted twice. I don’t think people understood that when they filled out the absentee ballot application they weren’t supposed to go and vote at the polls. That’s why this election was upended by a judge’s decision, who as far as I could tell, did not follow the law.”
“Even though this was a twomonth process … other than tightening some of the rules relating to absentee ballots so that we don’t have any issues relating to that in the future, which would be an improvement, and [providing] instructions for people in their native languages – in this case there were many native Russian speakers, the system does not need to be tweaked,” said Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, Chairwoman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee and a close ally of Fidler.
Some members of Storobin’s campaign team had taken it upon themselves to help Russian voters fill out absentee ballots before Election Day even though some of them were perfectly capable of going to the polls for the March 20th special election to fill Kruger’s seat in the state Senate.
In a ruling that essentially sealed the election for Storobin, State Supreme Court Judge Larry Martin reasoned, “There was no evidence that the campaign worker coerced or induced any of the witnesses to falsely apply for an absentee ballot.” Some argue that there needs to be a higher standard then what Judge Martin wrote and other lawmakers maintain they fear a higher standard would disenfranchise voters.
This was the closest election in the history of the New York State Senate. In the end, a mere 16 votes separated the loser from the winner. Did people attempt to vote early and vote often? That was apparently true. Does that happen in most elections? Apparently it does. Are state lawmakers looking to try to close this loophole? Not so much.
Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D – Mt. Vernon, Westchester County), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says the lax absentee voting guidelines stem from the Help America Vote Act and she doesn’t feel there needs to be a change in the law.
“The Help America Vote Act allows for a broad interpretation for absentee ballots because lawmakers didn’t want to disenfranchise voters. I wouldn’t want to do anything that would disenfranchise any voter. When an election is stolen, I say it’s because there were some gray areas in legalities. There didn’t seem to be gray areas unless we look at those 16 votes as gray areas. I think we need to have honest counts and we eliminate the opportunities for elections to be stolen,” Hassell- Thompson said.
For his part, it should be noted that Storobin insists he was not aware of what was going on with the absentee ballot campaign. He said he was functioning as a candidate and not managing all the details of his campaign.
But even with a five to one voter enrollment edge for the Democrats it points out that every vote counts.
“It should invigorate voters for the next time to realize that their vote does make a difference,” Weinstein concluded.