Problems with paper ballots short−circuit Padavan seat race

By Bob Harris

The 11th Senate District in eastern Queens looks like a horseshoe. It has been represented by state Sen. Frank Padavan (R−Bellerose) for the past 30 years, since the Republicans took control of the state Senate. Eastern Queens is Democratic, but Padavan has held his seat because he meets his constituents’ needs.

In 2008, City Councilman James Gennaro (D−Fresh Meadows) decided to run for Padavan’s seat, since he was being term−limited out of office in a couple of years and is known in eastern Queens. Democrats put lots of money and effort into winning the seat, since it could mean gaining control of the Senate after decades of Republican control. The Democratic tide last year against the Bush administration and the pull of President Barack Obama made this a close race.

The election ended with thousands of paper ballots, due partly because a voting machine broke down and many people walked into polling places where the names were not on the rolls and they were given paper ballots. There were also the absentee ballots.

As the paper ballots were counted by hand, about 1,700 were declared invalid by bipartisan Elections Board clerks. Padavan wound up ahead by about 500 votes. For weeks, both parties have gone to the courts and used the media declare themselves the winner.

Some were declared invalid because the people did not fill out the paper ballot properly. Four boxes have to be filled out and an affidavit signed on the ballot. If anything is done wrong, the ballot is invalid. Board officials did the counting with representatives of both sides watching. Specially trained lawyers and facilitators from both parties watched.

One group of problem paper ballots were by St. John’s University students, who probably just listed the school as their address. But where in the university did they live? Were they registered at their parents’ homes or were they living in a dorm? Why didn’t they declare they lived in a dorm prior to the election? Was it a burst of election enthusiasm to suddenly vote?

The counting has gotten so intense that Democrats are declaring Republicans are trying to disenfranchise students and foreigners, who traditionally vote Democratic. Republicans are saying they are ahead by 500 votes and won. At one point a few weeks ago, a half−dozen students were subpoenaed to appear in court to explain their paper ballots, but were told to go home after sitting a couple of hours.

The issue has gone back and forth between the Elections Board, which says the 1,700 paper ballots are invalid, and the state Appellate Division in Brooklyn, which said the board should decide. The next step may be the state Court of Appeals or the federal courts.

The problem with these paper ballots is that there is no punishment for illegally filling out the affidavit. There must be punishment for false statements on a paper ballot the way there must be punishment for builders who illegally self−certify illegal building plans.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: The fish in our oceans are being decimated by the use of trawlers and nets, which sweep up everything in their path. Over−fishing is causing fish stocks in the oceans to drop. Could many species of fish go the way of the dodo? Cod in the North Atlantic Ocean, tuna in the Pacific Ocean and salmon in the North Pacific are close to extinction.

Fish stocks can come back if we do not fish them for a few years. Other ways to obtain protein, jobs for fishermen and the cost of dry docking the boats will have to be solved, but unless we stop fishing for a while, some species will be lost forever.

There is also talk of decreasing the amount of plastic and other packaging put on the products we buy. We wrap our products and carry home goods in too many yards of plastic and bags. The city obtains 3,000 tons of plastic wrapping every week, which is hard to sort and recycle. Many stores now have white cardboard or plastic boxes where one can put plastic bags, but it is not clear if other plastic wrapping can be put in the boxes.

Also, there are only the boxes for plastic bags in a location so people throw paper receipts and candy wrappers in these boxes. Stores must put out a small can or box for trash and paper so as not to pollute these plastic bags−only boxes. This may require a law until the stores care about recycling and put out a trash container themselves.

More from Around New York