The other day, we reported on the petitioning deadline for the candidates competing to represent District 1 on the New York City Council. One candidate, PJ Kim, held a brief “press conference” outside the Board of Elections office on lower Broadway, heralding the 5500 signatures his campaign collected to get on the September Primary Election ballot. A few Lo-Down readers are obviously not PJ Kim fans. “DowntownGuy” alleged that some of Kim’s signatures came from people who don’t live in the district. “Dadude,” who also apparently runs the “Get Rid of Gerson” blog, claimed Kim used “non-registered democrats” to collect signatures. There were also comments from supporters of Kim. “Taosing@gmail.com” said, “he was out there, 7 days a week, from 8AM until 10PM meeting voters and listening to their concerns.”
This discussion probably tells us more about the city’s byzantine petitioning law than it does PJ Kim. To get on the ballot, City Council candidates must collect 900 signatures, but to protect against challenges, they usually gather about five times that number. This morning, City Hall News pointed out the lunacy of a system in which the Elections Board does very little to review the validity of petitions, unless there’s a challenge:
Some challenges are done with devious intentions, meant to propel underhanded political ends. True, there are regularly legitimate questions to be raised. But the greatest problem is with the Board of Elections’ officially blasé attitude to the paperwork received unless a complaint is raised. Everyone involved should be ashamed of a system that does not force the Board to check every signature on every ballot petition received—rudimentary computer programs would make this incredibly simple—and then automatically determine who has qualified for the ballot and who has not. There would not be much to argue about, except in cases where, perhaps, some handwriting was unclear.
But, in the current system, there’s plenty to argue about – and in a city in which politics is a contact sport, the outcome is predictable:
…some candidate, usually for political gain (though insisting that the move is simply standing up for principle), finds a staffer or friend to stand in on a challenge to the signatures. The connections are very quickly raised, and no matter what happens, the candidate responsible for the challenging draws the ire of reform groups and all but forfeits the chances of getting endorsed by
the New York Times. In other words, ulterior motive or not, a person who forces the Board of Elections to perform what should be a standard review risks severe political consequences. And no one can reasonably claim that this is how a proper system of government should operate.
The deadline to file complaints is midnight tonight. We’ll be following the intrigue, as the District 1 race takes more twists and turns.