Jack Martins' Bid for Delay Shakes up House Race
By Noah Manskar | Posted: Sunday, August 21, 2016 2:07 pm
Republican Jack Martins’ request last week to push back the 3rd Congressional District election threw another twist into an already closely watched, high-profile race.
The Old Westbury state senator asked a federal judge Aug. 19 to push the general election to Dec. 6 from Nov. 8, arguing that having only a month after the court-ordered Oct. 6 primary would give Democrat Tom Suozzi an unfair advantage and violate a federal law aimed at protecting overseas military voters.
Lawyers for Martins and Philip Pidot, his primary opponent, will argue the issue in Albany on Aug. 30.
But Pidot, Suozzi and Michael McDermott, the Libertarian candidate to replace Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), united on Sunday to slam Martins’ request, casting it as his latest effort to win elections in court rather than at the polls.
They also called it an attempt by Martins to insulate himself from any harm the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, might cause his campaign at the top of the Nov. 8 ticket.
“It’s time for Jack Martins to put on his big boy pants,” Suozzi said at the Greenvale Townhouse Diner. “This is an election about important issues, and it’s time to talk about the issues and actually have a debate and let the people decide who they think the best candidate is, instead of playing these weaselly maneuvers that he’s been using over and over again.”
Pidot won the right to compete in a Republican primary in a court battle after the state Board of Elections ruled in May that he lacked the 1,250 signatures required for the June 28 GOP primary in the district stretching from northeast Queens to northwest Suffolk County.
That ruling settled a legal challenge by Pidot that spanned nearly two months and involved three separate cases filed in federal and state courts. Pidot and Martins blamed each other for dragging out the court proceedings.
Suozzi, Pidot and McDermott said they don’t buy Martins’ claim that having the primary and general elections a month apart would disenfranchise overseas voters and violate a federal law, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, that sets deadlines for the mailing of their ballots.
Judge Frederick J. Scullin ordered the state and local election boards to seek a “hardship exemption” to that law. It affects 1,012 people, about 0.2 percent of the district’s 485,000 active registered voters, according to state Board of Elections numbers.
A later general election would depress turnout by forcing voters to the polls a second time, giving Martins a way around Trump at the top of the GOP ticket, Suozzi said. A Democratic poll released last week showed about 40 percent of voters would be less likely to support Martins because he is voting for Trump.
“This is a completely disingenuous attempt [by Martins] to abuse the court process and bend the electoral calendar to his whims,” said Pidot, a Glen Cove fraud investigator.
Martins has also challenged McDermott’s petition to run as the Libertarian candidate and Suozzi’s petition for a “Fix Washington” ballot line.
Supporters of Martins allege in Nassau County Supreme Court that Suozzi’s petition is rife with fraudulent signatures, including three from dead voters. They charge at least four Suozzi canvassers forged signatures — including one, Haig Minassian, who used the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying in court on Tuesday.
Suozzi’s campaign says it fired Minassian as soon as it found out what he did, and has said the few other bad signatures should be thrown out.
The state Board of Elections found the “Fix Washington” petition has enough signatures but is waiting to make a decision on its validity until the fraud case is resolved, said a Suozzi spokesman, John Conklin.
In a statement Sunday, Martins and his campaign maintained that the October primary would violate the military voting law and a Dec. 6 date would afford the time necessary to get military personnel their ballots because they “are serving our country in every corner of the globe,” his campaign said.
Any effect of Trump’s candidacy on Martins’ chances to win in November is “irrelevant,” said E. O’Brien Murray, Martins’ campaign strategist, in an interview.
“Anything else but our military service members is nothing but a smokescreen and an excuse for two people who have lost their elections and been rejected by voters to not step forward and fight for our military service members,” said Murray, referring to Suozzi and Pidot.
Pidot, a one-time Glen Cove City Council candidate, is a major underdog in the primary. Martins was named the Republican nominee for the North Shore congressional district in March and has already attracted more than $1 million in support from the National Republican Congressional Committee for the general election.
The only other time a federal court set a new general election date was in a 1982 case involving two congressional races in Georgia, according to a legal memo filed by Paul DerOhannesian II, Martins’ attorney.
Holding a single congressional election a month after every other federal race is decided would be “very unusual in American politics,” and would likely lower turnout to the level of a midterm election rather than a presidential election, said Meena Bose, a Hofstra University political science professor specializing in presidential politics.
“This would be a significant shift,” Bose said. Since “there are enough unexpecteds already,” she said, “I think there will be a strong push to keep the known as known.”