Back of the ballot

Fewer than 20 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in “big city” elections, according to an article in this month’s AARP Bulletin. Turnout in smaller towns or rural areas approaches 40 percent in so-called “off-year elections.” And that’s on the front of the ballot. The back gets even less attention.

Next week’s back of the ballot offers six proposals, five dealing with state-wide issues and one for Ulster County voters.

Let’s begin at home.

Proposal Six, Ulster County – “Utilization of funds designated for payroll expenses within the County budget” – seems innocuous enough but actually stems from decades of fiscal abuse, if not downright chicanery.

It’s an old story, often told and dating many decades before the modern (2009) executive era in Ulster. But it’s aimed squarely at limiting the executive’s ability to shift appropriations around the budgets he prepares and which are approved by the legislature.

The tactic is to load up budget lines with positions and salaries that may or not be used during the fiscal year. If the position remains unfilled, the money to support it stays on the books, all the better to plug a hole later in the year or to be carried forward as surplus. Keep in mind that taxes were levied to fund those positions.

Under the amendment the executive would not be able to “transfer payroll related expenditures to other budgetary lines during the course of a year.” If approved by voters, that reform would be added to the Ulster County charter by ballot next year. Sounds like a lot of work to play Hide the Weenie, but that’s how government works. Vote yes on this one with the assurance there will probably be another chance.

Proposal Two offers New Yorkers the “right to clean air, clean water and a healthful environment.” What, no mom or apple pie? Seriously, we should assert those rights at every opportunity, even if some worry that a giant, intrusive bureaucracy may result. But wait. We already have the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Nonetheless, send a message.

Proposals Three and Four extend access to voting, which is usually a good thing. But I’d like to have seen at least lip service to protecting voters from fraud. Go yes-yes on these proposals.

Proposal Five increases the jurisdiction of New York City Courts from $25,000 to $50,000 which logically should be considered of Gotham government.

Proposal One And the first shall be last. With good reason. They threw the kitchen sink in with this one, to include limiting the number of state senators at the current 63 and several unspecified tweaks to the inherently political reapportionment process. Lipstick on pigs comes to mind. Vote No.

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THREE WAYS TO TUESDAY – To a remarkable degree, attention has been focused on Kingston Dist. 6’s three-way contest for county legislature, in part because it is the only district in which the chairman of the legislature is running for his political future. That’s happened only one other time in recent history and the chairwoman (Bernardo) of Accord lost.

Two of the three candidates are quite familiar with each other. Legislature chairman Dave Donaldson was decisively defeated in a June primary by newcomer Phil Erner. But it could be the third actor in this passion play, Republican nominee Suzanne Timbrouck, who decides the winner.

The intriguing thing about this contest is that no candidate needs to get 50 percent of the vote (plus one) to win. Something in the mid to upper 30 percentile will do.

So, let’s take an 11th hour look at the candidates.

Timbrouck is a non-enrolled voter with Republican support. Voters fed up with the shenanigans and futility of major party candidates will find her candidacy attractive.

Erner has a small, energized team that will appeal to the have-nots.

Donaldson has almost three decades in office, name recognition and the bully pulpit. (Donaldson, as chairman, could blow his nose and the Freeman would run it top of Page 1.)

So, how did he lose the June primary, polling only about 10 percent of enrolled Democrats in his district? In a word: complacency.

The truth is Donaldson has been mailing it in for years, relying on past glories and easy access to the media to keep his name out there. A street-fightin’ man in his early days, he’d lost his street cred long ago. Erner had only to kick in the door, or at least knock on a few hundred in the primary, to prove it was off to the general.

So, what about that 38-40 percent the winner will need?

My take, for what it’s worth:

For Timbrouck to be a factor, if not a winner, she has to get into the low 30s. There are too few Republicans in the district (outnumbered 3-1) to give her the base to prevail. She’ll draw more from Erner than Donaldson. I’d advise a run for alderman in two years. She has much to offer.

Erner’s support is focused motivated, but limited. It’s like that with radicals. Questions about his residency – I’ve read published reports of between one and four years; he first voted in Kingston last year (according to the board of elections) will concern voters. Yet, he has the Democratic line and that means a solid base of “good Democrats” in that district.

Donaldson, much to his chagrin, was forewarned by the primary. He has found the enemy and it is him. Rejuvenated and girded for battle, Donaldson has spent more than twice that of his opponents. More important, he has appealed to those rank-and-file aging Democrats who stayed home during the primary, figuring he couldn’t lose. He never had.

But Donaldson is running on a self-created “Good Government” party line, and it’s hard to find on the ballot.

My prediction, and I would not be dancing in the streets if it comes out this way, is Donaldson prevails in a “one last term for good ol’ Dave” appeal to those who once loved him so dearly.

He said as much himself in a live broadcast on our Me and Mario show on the 15th.

“I really can’t lose,” he volunteered. “If I win, I win, of course. But if I lose, I still win.”

Next: Monday’s last pre-election piece will deal with these issues and much more. Tune in to Me and Mario on WGHQ AM-920, Friday from 7-9 a.m.