3 Ways Good People Do Bad Things in Elections
by Kenneth L. Warner
In the weeks leading up to the 2020 election, Election Commissioners in an Upstate County set aside hundreds of voter registrations on the grounds that they were “too busy” to process them, thereby violating the civil rights of every one of those potential voters.
What’s worse is, they single handedly gave a Congressional Election to election to an unscrupulous candidate, Claudia Tenney, who shouted from the rooftops “STOP THE COUNTING” the instant she pulled ahead in the re-count. Perhaps she forgot that in a Democracy, every vote counts. Her action rivals the abomination happening in Arizona where Republican State Legislators have hired a band of lunatics called “Campaign Ninjas” to subvert the political process and violate the election results in such a way as to destroy anyone’s faith in the concept of “Fair Elections”. Thank you, Ms. Tenney.
What it all proves is that one of the most important jobs in our Democracy is that of County Elections Commissioner, a task half the voting universe doesn’t even know exists.
They’re the people responsible for running those fair and safe elections.
I’ve worked with Elections Commissioners throughout much of New York State, from the Hudson Valley to the North Country, Central New York to Western Counties and I have to say that the majority of them are dedicated, trustworthy and hard working.
But as Sonia Sotomayor, the first Puerto Rican and 3rd woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court once said, “Good people can do bad things, make bad decisions. It doesn’t make them bad people”.
And that’s the case with many Elections Commissioners. These otherwise good people do bad things when it comes to voter suppression. And, it’s my experience that in most cases, they don’t even know that the unintended consequences of their actions serve to suppress voting, particularly among minorities and the disabled.
Here’s three ways it happens:
1.) Changing the Date of Elections. All too often, for seemingly good reasons, New York State changes the date of the Primary Election which results in confusing voters and holding down voter turnout. For example, some years ago then Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver changed the date of the election from Tuesday to Thursday for reasons unknown to many. The unintended consequences of his action were particularly consequential in the Mayoral Election in Rochester where literally thousands of people who would have voted … didn’t. A poll showed that the incumbent Mayor was ahead with 70% of the vote just prior to Tuesday. He lost on Thursday because people didn’t vote.
The result was the election of a Mayor completely unprepared for the job who has put Rochester on the map for police shootings, criminal activity and incompetence of government. All of this is thanks to Mr. Silver who is now serving his days out as a guest of New York State in the pokey for stealing millions.
2.) Designating polling places as Handicap Accessible, that aren’t. Perhaps one of the most insidious, is the use of inappropriate voting locations staffed with untrained election workers. I once voted in a place where the handicap ramp was about as easy to negotiate as a winter jaunt up Mount Everest. A paraplegic in a wheelchair was trying to make his way up the ramp, but kept rolling backwards at the turn. He asked if I would give him a hand, which I did, only to find that when he made his “X” as his signature, the polling inspector refused it as a valid signature and would not let him vote. As it happens, I was standing behind him with my hands clenched on the handles of his wheelchair and I spoke up with a complete and total bluff. I flashed my useless voter registration card (in those days the BOE offered blue registration cards as proof of citizenship for travel to Canada) and said, “Do you have any idea who I AM?” The bluff worked and he voted.
Having poorly trained election workers, and inaccessible polling locations suppresses voting for an entire population that needs the vote equally if not more than the rest of us.
3.) Changing Voting Locations. Perhaps the most egregious actions with log term implications is changing where people vote. Ironically, they are often changed because of low voter turnout and an apparent need to “Save Money”.
I’ve run campaigns in what some people call “Bad” neighborhoods where average folks are scared to walk down the street in mid-day let alone anyone in the dark of a November Night the second Tuesday of November. In fact, in most of those neighborhoods, turnout stops dead at 7:00 p.m. leaving poll workers as lonely as the Maytag repairman.
When a change is made in a voter location, many voters who do manage to make it to their traditional polling location are surprised to find it has moved. The result is, they don’t vote that night. And, they won’t vote again. Worse, they tell other people, “Don’t vote, there isn’t a place any more” compounding the problem and leaving voters frustrated, upset and disenfranchised.
All of these actions are intended to make elections affordable, fair and run smoothly for everyone. But the unintended consequence is voter suppression, plain and simple.
Normally good people doing bad things.
It’s time to fully fund elections and make clean democracy a priority.