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.