We’re still weeks away from settling the race for county district attorney and a handful of toss-up races which might determine the majority in the county legislature, but it’s not too early to start seriously figuring out what went wrong at the board of elections in preparation for next year’s presidential elections.
What we think we know is worrisome enough.
Operating under a new, untested system on the fly, the board had the misfortune to have its one and only technician go down with a broken leg around 10:30 Nov. 5. That alone raises red flags. No backup? Nobody else who could carry returns over the finish line? At the time the unfortunate techie suffered “a medical event” (he’s OK, I’m told), something like 10 percent of returns had not reached BOE computers.
Compounding bad planning with poor judgement, election workers shut down the system and rushed off to a Kingston hospital to comfort their fallen colleague. Thousands of votes were left uncounted for some 15 hours.
Then there was the early voting fiasco. The board seemed to do a decent job of establishing seven polling places at strategic areas around the county, staffing them with well-trained elections workers and collecting returns in a timely manner. In the run-up to the general election, the board announced it would release early voting returns at 9:01 p.m. on election day. It did so, but did not include those returns, some 6,000 of them, in the running totals from machines on election night until around 11 p.m. One result was that Republican district attorney candidate Mike Kavanagh, who thought he was up by around 2,000 at 10:30 was suddenly up by three when the early votes were added in. Kavanagh and his Democratic opponent, Dave Clegg, were no doubt as surprised as the thousands of voters watching those returns streaming live (but not complete) on the BOE’s website. That never should have happened.
While the board exhibited a dearth of planning and misguided judgments, at least it didn’t take place in a presidential year when thousands of more voters will be casting ballots. In a sense, this “local election” was something of a test run gone badly.
That it will not end as badly as it played out election night is no comfort. A few thousand absentee ballots will soon be duly counted by board personnel under the careful scrutiny of candidates. How that goes, nobody knows, which is why Clegg and Kavanagh are both pulling their hair out. Clegg’s people seem to believe their side will carry the absentees by several hundred since there are significantly more Democrats enrolled in Ulster than Republicans. Already it seems they’ve forgotten how the machine balloting went. There is a depth of Kavanagh support that does not appear on paper.
But one thing is certain. The board of elections, heretofore left to its own devices by county government, had better gets its act together, and quickly, before the Big Show in less than a year. If not, I expect that county executive Pat Ryan, who made some pointed inquiries sounding like “what the hell is going on over there?” on election night, will march in with a team of experts for some grass roots remedial action.
Bubble-licious – Most people have little pity for politicians, but as an old-timer told me years ago, “If it wasn’t for us, you guys wouldn’t have anything to write about”.
Ergo, I have some sympathy for this year’s bunch on the bubble, their fates sealed in absentee ballots that won’t be even opened for another week or so. For control-freak pols, it is a terrifying thing to have someone else in charge of your future.
I don’t take sides, of course, but I see most of them on the campaign trails, at debates and meals of every kind. Campaigning is hard work and time-consuming, usually on weekends and evenings. Those who fail to put in the effort, sometimes even entrenched incumbents, often pay the price.
For those on the bubble, take heart. Even losing on the absentees is closer than most candidates get.