Election results mostly as expected; turnout better than four years ago

Yesterday’s elections offered a handful of unexpected results, but incumbents mostly won.  Turnout ticked up compared with 2015.

As projected here on August 13th, County Executive Mark Poloncarz was victorious, but his margin was smaller both in terms total votes and in percentages than in 2015.  Lynne Dixon worked hard, but she offered no compelling reason for a change in leadership in County Hall. Poloncarz’s taking-care-of-business style worked just fine.

Poloncarz’s winning margin was 14,489; he carried 53.5 percent of the vote to Dixon’s 46.5 percent. Total turnout in the county was approximately 34.4 percent; turnout in the City of Buffalo was just 22.8 percent.

The Erie County Legislature’s Democratic majority stayed at seven of the eleven members. Democrat John Gilmour will take Dixon’s seat, while Democrat Jeanne Vinal replaces retiring Democrat Tom Loughran. Republican Frank Todaro defeated Democratic incumbent John Bruso in the 8th District.

The majority party will be composed of legislators who are very light in county government experience. Only new Democrat Kevin Hardwick has had more than two years at the Legislature; he has been there for 10 years. The other six members in the Democratic caucus will, as of January 1, have an average of less than one year in county government. On the other hand the three legislators of the Republican caucus who will return to office average 11 years of service, and will now be joined by Todaro.

Democrat Diane Devlin defeated Republican Gerald Greenan in the only contested election for State Supreme Court by a very small margin of less than 2,000 votes in the eight county Eighth Judicial District.

In Niagara County Republicans maintained control of the County Legislature. Niagara Falls elected a new mayor, Democrat Robert Restaino, who will replace the retiring Paul Dyster. Lockport Democratic Mayor Michelle Roman was re-elected to a full term as Mayor.

Orchard Park voters approved the addition of two members to the town board, beginning in 2021. The town became the third of five towns in Erie County to return to a five member town board as the Kevin Gaughan-promoted experiment in three member boards continues to be reversed. Alden and Evans still have three member boards, while Hamburg and West Seneca previously reverted to five member legislative bodies.

The Town of Tonawanda and Cheektowaga elected full slates of Democrats to town offices.  Democrats won control of the Town Board in Hamburg.  Republican Joseph Spino won a seat on the Amherst Town Board, although his margin of victory, 48 votes, will be subject to absentee votes and a final tabulation.

With only two contested elections out of 12 offices on the ballot in the City of Buffalo, turnout in the City was once again much lower than that of the rest of the county. Mark Supples made a try as the Republican candidate for Council in the Niagara District but was handily defeated by incumbent David Rivera. There was a token Republican candidate for Comptroller but the Party has essentially ceded the territory to the Democrats.

Democrats in the City of Buffalo regularly fails to turn out in anywhere near the proportions of Democratic turnout in the suburbs, which has had a negative effect on countywide and statewide candidates. Which the Republicans are very happy with.

It will take some further analysis, but it appears that the first use of the early voting system served more as a convenience for voters to be able to vote at a time and place other than their regular polling place on Election Day, rather than much of a stimulant for increased participation. There were a total of 205,313 voters in Erie County yesterday compared with 152,655 in 2015. While the total number of votes who voted early was 4.4 percent of total registered voters, another way of looking at the early voting numbers is that the nine day turnout produced nearly 13 percent of the actual election vote for 2019.

The early voting system operated well and produced 26,514 votes in Erie County, far more than all but one other county in the state. The fact that Erie County had many more voting locations than other counties (Niagara County only had two sites compared with Erie’s 37) contributed to the voting activity last week. The system passed its test, worked well, and will likely be much more promoted and used in 2020, with the presidential election dominating public attention.

 

The Public Campaign Financing Commission’s work could be more of a legal issue than a political one

The state created Public Campaign Financing Commission is heading toward decisions and a report on how the state will run a program for the use of public money in statewide and state legislative races. And maybe an end to fusion voting. The report will be out on November 27th.

The Commission held a public hearing in Buffalo on October 29th, attended by about 200 people and seven of the nine members of the Commission. The majority of the speakers supported public financing of campaigns and also opposed the end of fusion voting. At this point, however, except for a handful of stories about what the Commission might decide, what they may do is mostly speculation. Since the Commission’s planned actions are not very transparent, it will be time to get into what they come up when they come up with it.

At the Buffalo hearing, the last of four held around the state, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown strongly supported public financing but did not comment on fusion voting. Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner recommended the end of fusion voting but did not comment on public financing.

Republican State Assemblymen Angelo Morinello, Michael Norris, and Andrew Goodell, along with Republican State Chairman Nick Langworthy, all questioned the whole purpose of public financing of campaigns, suggesting that the money (up to $100 million) could be better spent on other things. Langworthy strongly attacked Governor Andrew Cuomo’s behind-the-scenes role in the work of the Commission.

Much of the reporting that has occurred thus far has focused on the fusion voting issue, with speculation about whether the Commission will end the system. Many suggest that Governor Cuomo is behind the effort as a means of settling scores with the Working Families Party, which endorsed him in 2014 and 2018, but nonetheless maintains a dicey relationship with the Governor. The Governor and his team deny any such effort.

The state Conservative Party and the Working Families Party have the most to lose if fusion voting is ended. Their clout, which includes support for various public policy issues but also results in patronage opportunities, would probably evaporate if they could only run members of their own party for office, rather than be an important extra line on the ballot for Democratic and Republican candidates.

No Republican has ever been elected to statewide office without the Conservative line since the Party was established in 1962. In Erie County the Conservative line has been largely responsible for the success of Republican countywide candidates for office for many years.

While the politics of the Commission’s activities and even its existence has absorbed most of the dialogue so far, it seems very likely that legal issues concerning the Commission’s work will ultimately take precedence.

For openers, there is a baseline legal question that was raised by Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo, who spoke at the Buffalo hearing. Lorigo raised this issue: the members of the Commission are “public officers” covered by terms of the Public Officers Law. The law defines a public officer as “every officer appointed by one or more state officers, or the legislature.” That would include members of the Commission.

The law, among other things, requires all public officers to file with the appropriate government office an “Oath of Office” card, certifying that they accept their responsibilities under the law. The law requires that the cards be filed within 30 days of the public officer’s appointment, and must precede any official action by the officer. Failure to file the oath card within 30 days vacates the appointment.

The thing is, Lorigo says that members of the Commission failed to file their oath cards within 30 days of their appointments as Commission members, which occurred several months ago. I have no reason to question what Lorigo is saying since he is skilled at such things, and he would wind up with egg on his face if in fact it turned out that he was not correct.

If oath cards for the members have not been filed on a timely basis then that could make whatever actions the Commission has taken thus far invalid. The cure for this problem would be for the appointments to be made again and then have the oath cards appropriately filed. That takes a little time. Under the law that created it, the Commission has less than a month to complete its work.

This is a substantive issue. There have been examples of offices becoming vacant upon the failure to file the Oath of Office.

And then there is the matter of whether a non-elected state commission can be given the power by the State Legislature to, in effect, legislate. The same issue was raised in regards to the state Commission that was appointed in 2018 to establish pay raises for statewide officeholders, legislators and state departmental leadership. That Commission went on to say that there would be limits on outside income of legislators, starting in January 2020. The issue has been challenged in two court cases but has not yet been definitively decided.

So the question remains for the Public Financing Commission, how much power does the Commission actually have to create a public financing system and possibly to end fusion voting?   Law suits have already been filed, although it would seem that there needs to be a Commission policy in place before such a challenge could go forward.

The State Legislature will have between December 1 and December 22 to convene and turn down the Commission’s recommendations if it chooses to do so. Whatever is decided might not in any case actually go into effect until 2022.

If the State Legislature defers on action concerning the policies on public financing and fusion voting the Commission puts forth, then the Commission plans will go into effect, subject to court action that will likely land in the hands of the State Court of Appeals. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.

For Election Night analysis on November 5th, tune in to WBFO-FM, 88.7. I will be joining News Director Dave Debo and Warren Galloway to discuss the results. I will post an article about the results on this blog on Wednesday.

Follow me on Twitter on Election Night or anytime @kenkruly

Some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets

So Election Day, November 5th, is just thirty-five days away. Well, actually, Election Day is only twenty-five days away. Early voting is coming to a voting booth near you on Saturday, October 26th for a nine day run.

There will be 37 sites available in Erie County for early voting in 2019. Here is the Board of Elections’ explanation of the process.  The location of the 37 sites can be accessed at the end of the following BOE note. Continue reading

What if they held an election and nobody came?

This year’s June primary seems to have taken energy out of the 2019 election. I know, if you’re a candidate, campaign staffer, or party official you will tell me you are working your tail off – and I believe you.

But for the 99.9 percent of local residents who are not personally involved in the election, you are undoubtedly finding it hard to get excited or even interested in the election that will be held in less than 70 days. To the extent that people are interested, they are directing their attention to the national level. Continue reading

So a developer comes along and …

Western New York has been having a great run with getting public and private development off the drawing boards and into reality. Kind of makes you want to start singing “Buffalo’s got the spirit, talking proud, talking proud.”

For those of you under the age of 40, that was a community spirit song beaten into our memories in the early 1980’s in endless television commercials. The fact is, there wasn’t quite so much to be proud of at that time. You could probably say that we hadn’t even hit bottom yet. Continue reading