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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 4, 2007

Time to leave bedlam behind

As Democrats swept national elections this fall and as Democrat Eliot Spitzer this week took the reigns as New York’s governor with an unprecedented 69 percent of the vote, the Albany County Democrats are foundering.

While suburban and urban factions quarrel, the county’s Democratic committee has no leader. After four years as the committee’s chairwoman, Betty Barnett retired on Sept. 27. Her final act was to chair the committee’s biennial organizational meeting. It was the committee’s first-ever contested election and it was bedlam.

With over 600 people at the Polish Community Center, a standing vote was used rather than a weighted roll-call vote. The slate headed by Albany’s Frank Commisso beat the slate headed by Guilderland’s David Bosworth, 253 to 216.

The results were challenged, as they should have been, by Bosworth supporters. After two judges declined to hear the case, it was finally decided on by Acting Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. McNamara on Dec. 21.

He was right to invalidate the Sept. 27 election of officers. McNamara cites state Election Law that says that the voting power of each committee member is to be in proportion to the party vote. Since the rules of Albany County’s Democratic Committee provide for two members from each election district, the judge ruled, "The voting power of each member is, therefore, required to be weighted to the party vote in the district for governor, or member of assembly or party enrollment depending on the circumstances since the last preceding gubernatorial election."

This state requirement is in keeping with the well-known "one man, one vote" ruling by the United States Supreme Court more than 40 years ago. Before the high court’s 1964 decision in Reynolds v. Sims, urban and suburban counties were often drastically misrepresented. In Vermont, for example, the smallest district has 36 people, the largest had 35,000, a ratio of almost 1,000 to 1.

The eight justices ruled that state legislature districts had to be roughly equal in population, correcting malapportionment which could undermine the premises of representative democracy.

Chief Justice Earl Warren, in his majority decision, famously wrote, "Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests."

The "one man, one vote" principle affected elected bodies across the country. At the county level in New York State, for example, many county boards became county legislatures or, alternatively, adopted a weighted voting system so that elections would be fair.

Since the number of Democratic Party members in each of Albany County’s election districts is not the same, or even near the same, two votes per district cannot be fair.

Judge McNamara was right to rule, "Inasmuch as weighted voting was not utilized in the election of officers at the organizational meeting on September 27, 2006, the election must be invalidated."

He was also right when he wrote, "There is a generally held view that courts should not interfere with the internal affairs of a political party." McNamara goes on to state that the Bosworth slate did not demonstrate "any statutory or legal ground for judicial intervention."

The judge leaves it up to the committee, guided by state law and its own rules.

"There is no reason," writes the judge, "to believe that the Committee is incapable of determining the appropriate weight of each committee members’ vote as prescribed by the statute or to identify eligible voters."

On the face of it, the committee may look incapable of such a determination.

The committee has no leader. Barnett stepped down. Commisso, who had been assuming leadership responsibilities, has had his election invalidated. And, while the Bosworth camp claims he would be elected in a weighted vote, he has not been elected.

Bosworth has told us that what distinguishes his leadership style from Commisso’s is his collaborative, inclusive approach. Now is the time to demonstrate that style.

Both slates, as they meet to negotiate ground rules on how the weighted vote will be used and which voters will be considered eligible, need to be able to compromise. Rather than driving the wedge deeper between factions, both sides need to look for common ground.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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