Thursday, September 16, 2010


New York primary election

It was very strange, after more than twenty years of voting on big, clunky machines with levers, to vote for the first time on a paper ballot this Tuesday.

Well, not the first time for me, but the first time at a regular polling place in New York. I once voted by absentee ballot because I was off at an IETF meeting on voting day. And when I lived in Maryland, we voted with a punch-card system (yes, with issues of pregnant and hanging chads, which we never thought of at the time).

But starting with Tuesday’s primary election, New York has switched from the old voting machines to paper ballots, large sheets with small circles that one fills in with a black marker. I have to trust that they work well, but who knows for sure? I suppose we trusted the old machines, and maybe that trust was ill-founded. But they were stately and venerable, and the levers made satisfying and reassuring sounds.

Now I have to wonder whether I really marked the right circle, and whether the machine counted it correctly. I have to make sure I didn’t brush the marker against the paper and make a stray mark, check that I didn’t crease the page in a funny way. Why does it feel odd? Maryland’s punch-cards didn’t give me the same feelings, yet they surely suffered from similar effects, and worse. Perhaps I’m just getting old and inflexible.

Anyway, I voted, of course; that should surprise none of my readers. The New York primary ballot was easy for the Democrats, with just two races: a choice among five for the Attorney General nominee, and one between two for Kirsten Gillebrand’s U.S. Senate seat — Ms Gillebrand was appointed to Hillary Clinton’s seat in 2009, and has to stand in a special election in November to get the final two years of that seat’s term. (Meanwhile, our other U.S. Senator, Charles Schumer, is up for re-election normally, so we’ll have the unusual situation of voting for both of our senate seats at the same time this November.)

Ms Gillebrand easily won her nomination, as everyone expected. The Attorney General contest was more hotly contested, and State Senator Eric Schneiderman — who had the endorsement of the New York Times — fairly closely edged out Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, my own choice on the ballot. To be sure, all five candidates were reasonable, and I’m perfectly happy with Mr Schneiderman.

On the Republican side, Tea Party idiot Carl Paladino beat perennial loser Rick Lazio by quite a lot to become the Republican nominee for Governor. This is probably good news for our current AG, Andrew Cuomo, who has the Democratic nomination in hand, with no opposition.

Tea Party candidates kicked out traditional Republican incumbents in a few places — the most newsworthy one was in Delaware. Either that will mean good things for the Democrats, who will sail to victory over right-wing nutjobs, or it will say some very bad things, indeed, about the state of the country, should those nuts win in November. We’ll have to see.

What’s always disturbing is the low turnout in these elections. Primary elections get low voter turnout in general, and midterm elections do as well... so the primaries in the midterms involve just a handful of voters deciding things for the entire state.

With 98% of the votes counted, as I write this, we had about 440,000 votes cast in the Republican primary and about 590,000 in the Democratic primary. Put in perspective, there are about 20,000,000 people in the state (of course, they’re not all eligible to vote, and I don’t know how many voters there are). That means that each voter made the choice for about twenty people — only five percent of the population of New York took part in deciding who might be our governor, our attorney general, and our two senators for the next four to six years.

I find that sad.

1 comment:

Brent said...

I miss the old voting machines - they were like an old magical mechanical friend.

The new paper ballots feel like taking a standardized test in high school, with the illusion that the secrecy of your vote is somehow preserved because you can carry it from the "booth" to the machine in a paper sleeve. Of course, you have to take it out of the sleeve and give it to the poll worker to insert it in the scanner!