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Let voters have a choice

September 14, 2011

Historically, Americans have gone to the polls in November to elect their political leaders. Our general elections are thoroughly democratic: every adult American citizen can vote for the candidate of his or her choice.

Primaries and party caucuses are different. In New York State, you have to be a registered member of a political party to vote in one. Because each party has its own caucus (or primary), and because many Americans choose not to be affiliated with any political party, every primary and caucus, by law, excludes most voters.

Generally, this doesn’t matter because primaries and caucuses aren’t intended to pick office holders; they are intended to select the candidates that political parties will field in the general election.

But this year, in some Sullivan County towns, we’ve seen some unusual events that could have made some elections practically meaningless.

In the Town of Delaware, a Democratic Party faction championed Ed Sykes for supervisor in the party caucus. Mr. Sykes is well-known in the community and he’s a registered Democrat—but he had already accepted the Republican nomination for the position. If he had been picked as the Democratic candidate as well, he would have been the only candidate on the ballot.

In the Town of Callicoon, the incumbent Republican supervisor worked the phones to encourage supporters who are Democrats to turn out at the Democratic caucus to try and get the entire Republican slate on the Democratic line. The effort failed, but had it succeeded, voters would have confronted identical Democratic and Republican lines on the ballot in November.
And in Bethel, one judicial candidate is seeking to get his name on all five lines on the ballot.

There’s nothing illegal in any of this. But if a small group of people deprive thousands of voters of a choice in November, I think it’s fair to ask if democracy is being well served.

Bruce Ferguson
Callicoon Center, NY