This week marks the official start of the “silly season,” as candidates for a variety of local offices begin circulating petitions to get on the ballot. This is a very important aspect of any campaign, as New York State does not make it easy for anyone to gain ballot access. I often joke with my political science students at Canisius College that the unofficial motto of the New York State Election Law is “amateurs need not apply.” Indeed, there are plenty of examples of even veteran officeholders being tripped up by the state’s overly complex rules. Petition signers, for instance, are required to list their city or town. If they list Kenmore their signature will be invalidated. This is because Kenmore is a village in the Town of Tonawanda. If a candidate’s petitions contain too many of these technically flawed signatures they could be denied access to the ballot. Would be public officials are used to dealing with these barriers to the ballot. This year, though, candidates for the Erie County Legislature face an additional obstacle.
At the current time there are no petitions to be signed because there are no county legislative district boundaries within which to run. Every 10 years we are required to redraw district lines to take into account population shifts as revealed by the release of new census numbers. Even under the best of circumstances this process can be very messy and partisan politics often prevails. This year, however, we have an additional complicating factor. Last fall voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that I backed to downsize the legislature from 15 to 11 members. So this November we will have 15 incumbents and only 11 seats. It is like a game of musical chairs with four fewer chairs. Even though a few members have indicated they will not be seeking reelection, the prospect remains of incumbents running against one another. This fact has only served to further politicize an already political process.
Although there have been a number of plans forwarded, two seem to be the most likely. Both would put the City of Tonawanda and Grand Island with a portion of the Town of Tonawanda in the district in which I would find myself. One of the plans would also include a portion of Amherst. A judge may end up drawing the lines if no agreement can be reached. Some have suggested that a court might delay downsizing and order candidates to run in the current districts in a plan that would include weighted voting in the legislature for the next two years. We cannot allow this to happen, as it would postpone downsizing and rob taxpayers of the quarter million dollars or so this measure will save once implemented. When the Board of Elections tried to keep the downsizing measure off the ballot last year I went to court to insure that voters were given their say. We must be prepared to go back to court, if necessary, to make sure that the will of the people prevails and downsizing is accomplished.
(Printed June 8, 2011 in the Ken-Ton Bee Newspaper)