Jack Martins, of Old Westbury, running for Senate in the 7th District, votes on Election Day at The Wheatley School in Old Westbury on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (Credit: Steve Pfost)
State Sen. Jack Martins’ attempts to knock fellow Republican Philip Pidot off the primary ballot in the race for the 3rd Congressional District caused months of delays and expense for Pidot, and Martins’ reasons turned out to be unfounded. In the end, a court ruled that Pidot had the 1,250 valid signatures (plus 11 more) needed to make the run.
But Martins and his lawyers dragged the process out so long that Pidot was not cleared to run until just a few days before the original primary date for federal elections, June 28 — too late to print ballots carrying the names of both men.
Now a judge has set a new primary date of Oct. 6, and Martins is back in court with a new lawsuit. He claims the new primary is too close to Election Day, Nov. 8, and he is suing to move the election for the seat to December. Martins has been a very busy politician, also challenging the nominating petitions of Libertarian candidate Michael McDermott and the Fix Washington-line petitions of Democratic nominee Thomas Suozzi, both of whom also seek the seat.
Federal law actually requires 45 days between a primary and general election to print ballots and get them to absentee voters. But in this case, following the letter of that law would cause more harm than it would prevent, given the numbers of people who would not vote in December.
The whole mess shines a bright light on New York State’s horrendous ballot-access system. The process of collecting signatures on petitions gives a huge advantage to party stalwarts, who can call on big volunteer and staff operations. And even the best efforts are so flawed with invalid signatures that it’s common to turn in 50 percent or even 100 percent more than the law calls for, knowing many signatures will be disqualified if petitions are challenged. And the ability to challenge is another boon to establishment candidates, who can call on party attorneys like Martins’ Republican lawyer, John Ciampoli, who are skilled at getting signatures thrown out on the smallest technicalities, like misspelled names of towns.
It shouldn’t be so hard to get on a ballot to run for office. An affordable fee is a high enough bar, along with proof that the candidate lives in the district, and is otherwise eligible to run. Requiring hundreds or thousands of signatures proves little and safeguards no one. But no candidate should be allowed to appear on the ballot for more than one party. Multiple lines create abuses and do nothing positive for voters.
For now, we are stuck with the system we have. It’s not ideal that there are only 33 days between an Oct. 6 primary and a Nov. 8 general election to send ballots to absentee voters, including military personnel, but it could be done. And Martins, whose top-of-ticket candidate, Donald Trump, is proving increasingly toxic in his district, is the only candidate who wants the extremely unusual date change.
The courts and Martins’ lawyers delayed Pidot’s attempts to force a GOP primary, and Martins’ challenges turned out to be wrong. In sports, you are penalized if you challenge a referee’s call and turn out to be wrong. Martins doesn’t deserve the delay, and the boards of election don’t need it. Having slowed the system, Martins shouldn’t be permitted to benefit from the breakdown, and voters should be able to cast votes for all of their officials on the same election day.— The editorial board