26 March 2009

Another Win for the Bipolarchy

The Twentieth Congressional District of New York is the one neighboring mine to the north. It was Kirsten Gillibrand's district, so it came open when Governor Paterson promoted her to the U.S. Senate. Her seat will be filled by a special election to be held on May 31. The main contestants are Jim Tedisco, a former member of the State Assembly, and Scott Murphy, a businessman.

It has been a strange campaign. Tedisco, the Republican candidate, has been backed by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, whose commercials identify Murphy, the Democratic candidate, as a Wall Street millionaire, an outsourcer of jobs, an enabler of unworthy bonuses, and in general a poster boy for the practices that have forced the government to take drastic measures. Murphy in turn is backed by the equivalent Democratic committee, which tars Tedisco as "another Albany politician" who's used his office to benefit himself at public expense. Albany is as Democratic a city as you may find, but for the purpose of advertising "Albany" refers to the despised state legislature -- where Democrats also prevail.Only when the committees identify themselves at the end of the ads do you hear the words "Democrat" and "Republican" mentioned in either set of ads.

There is at least one other candidate. He is Eric Sundwall, the nominee of the Libertarian party. This week, however, he was knocked off the ballot after many of the petitions necessary to earn his spot were challenged and found faulty for various picayune reasons. It's assumed that the elimination of a Libertarian candidate should benefit the Republican candidate, but Tedisco denies any involvement in the challenge. It just so happens that in New York State private citizens can challenge a candidate's spot on the ballot. Two such citizens challenged Sundwall, one being a registered Republican, the other belonging to the Conservative party.

On one level, the loss of a Libertarian is no great loss. That party has even less to contribute than normal during a time of major economic dislocation. But on principle we ought to deplore the maneuvering that took Sundwall down. Our electoral system is designed to encourage party-line voting, and the laws exist to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to challenge the reigning Bipolarchy of Republicans and Democrats. Our legislators may as well be Iranian mullahs, given their power to exclude independents from the sacred ballot. Lip service is paid to the principle of write-in voting, but the ballot certifies certain candidates as the "real" ones while implicitly relegating the rest to second class or worse. But if we really want to honor the principle, and if ballot space is so limited that there have to be laws to limit access, the fair thing to do is level the playing field and eliminate ballots altogether. Let's have every name written in, or spoken in if technology permits, and let's have each voter name whomever he pleases for any office, without any prompting from parties. I won't dare promise that outcomes would differ, but at least we wouldn't see any more repeat performances of the sort of legal farce that renders our elections less democratic and less republican.


mguller said...

The arcane, outdated, and outrageous New York Election Laws have to change.

Under the current laws, third party and independent candidates for public office have to bear a far greater burden than do the candidates of the two major parties in attaining ballot access.

Year after year, cycle after cycle, the voters are denied the opportunity to vote for some of the best candidates because they are not members of the two major parties in New York.

These types of “laws” are common in third world nations where candidate suppression runs parallel to voter suppression. But in New York? Why?

Example: Running for Congress - Major party candidates have to gather 1,250 signatures from their party members. Third party or Independent candidates have to get 3,500 and most often they are challenged and thrown out.

I was one of the fortunate independents who made it onto the ballot in 2004 after my party petitions for the Democratic party were challenged. I know the system is rigged and so does everyone who runs, everyone who challenges, and everyone who throws candidates off the ballot.

Eric Sundwall submitted over 7,000 signatures to be on the ballot in the upcoming Special Election on March 31st . Using arcane and little know regulations the powers that be were able to squeeze out over 4,000 of those signatures.

How outrageous is it to tell over 4,000 people that their signature don’t count and they stand for nothing?

The Assembly and Senate must review and reform these laws that, in fact, work against the good of the people of our state.

Morris Guller
Lexington, New York

Anonymous said...

Agreed. The problem being, of course, that the legislature is run by the bipolarchy in question and won't do anything that would endanger their control. What needs to happen is independents and third parties must get together to form 1 petition that enumerates the problems and offers a solution for each problem, and threatens to vote out any sitting candidate who does not support the changes. The petition must be sent state-wide and as many signatures as possible gathered and then submitted to both parties and the governor. I think one of the main issues should be term limits to keep people like Joe Bruno and Shel Silver from obtaining the kind of power they have.

Samuel Wilson said...

Mr. Guller: Thanks for writing. More people need to share your outrage, but they first need to get over their brand-name loyalty, an attitude that automatically dismisses independents as second-class candidates. Unfortunately, the entire apparatus of ballots and party lines privileges the Bipolarchy, and a legislature dominated by the two parties is unlikely to change a system that benefits them. Term limits as suggested by Crhymethinc are desirable but might prove counterproductive so long as the Bipolarchy remains embedded in the electoral system. Imposing term limits on people could serve to further consolidate partisan rule, since parties would be the main element of continuity in the system. I worry that nothing short of a constitutional revolution might be necessary to undo the Bipolarchy's usurpation of power, and I'm not sure how that can be done in this state.