[JK: The following is an editorial from the June 4, 2022 edition of the Daily Gazette]
With everything the state police have to do these days – especially now with violent crime and mass shootings on the rise – the last thing these highly trained investigators should be wasting their time on is whether election petition signatures are valid.
Election petitions are part of a political process, a tradition kept alive because they help keep incumbents in power. A growing number of states don’t even require them any longer for candidates to demonstrate their eligibility for the ballot.
Challenges to petitions are brought not because the candidate feels a strong moral and legal obligation, but to knock an opponent off the ballot.
That’s an issue for elections officials, not law enforcement. And nowhere is the need to change the challenge process more evident than with the recently closed case involving a complaint filed by Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee Chair Pat Tuz against Republican public safety commissioner candidate Tracey LaBelle.
Tuz alleged in her complaint that the petition signatures from the United Saratoga party line didn’t match voter registration signatures. Two state police investigators interviewed 19 people over several months, only to conclude that the forgery allegations brought against LaBelle were unfounded.
On top of that, the outcome of the election wasn’t in jeopardy. LaBelle lost last November.
Did Democrats really need to keep pushing this, and did state police really need to keep investigating a case that was moot?
The reason this investigation continued was because it included allegations of a crime. And police likely were obligated to carry their investigation to its conclusion.
They shouldn’t have been involved in the first place. The matter should stay within the state elections system, first going through some initial review by a committee, then through the county board of elections or an independent arbitrator. Then if it still wasn’t resolved, on to the state Board of Elections for final review.
Unless allegations of fraud went beyond signatures to a crime that involved bribery or coercion of petition signers, then police should not be brought into these matters.
By going to the police, the political parties are, as Saratoga Springs Republican Committee Chairman Michael Brandi said, setting a “dangerous precedent of criminalizing the petitioning process.”
It’s in the interests of the political parties and candidates from all along the political spectrum to keep these challenges procedural, rather than criminal.
If the parties insist on going the criminal route, then the Legislature needs to take that power away from them and put it into law.