By STATE SEN. BILL PERKINS
Most of the focus of the 2010 election has been on Capitol Hill, but closer to home here in New York, there are three closely contested races where counts are still underway that will determine which party holds the majority in the now Democrat-controlled State Senate. These races are outside of New York City, in Nassau, Westchester and Buffalo, but we need to keep a watchful eye on them because of what’s at stake for communities of color and also because widespread voting irregularities throughout the state have called the new voting system into question. There are still thousands of absentee, affidavit and emergency ballots yet to be counted and we need to make sure New York in 2010 doesn’t become what Florida was during the 2000 presidential election. In these contests, only hundreds of votes separate three Democratic incumbents—Craig Johnson, Suzi Oppenheimer and Antoine Thompson—from their Republican opponents. The outcome will impact policies in New York for years to come as Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo takes the reins of power in the executive mansion. With control of one half of the State Legislature in the balance, voters deserve a full, fair and honest accounting of the ballots cast in these races, especially after previous electoral debacles. To that end, Democrats have now launched what we believe to be the largest election protection effort New York has ever seen. This was the first general election run on new electronic voting machines. Voters and poll workers were not accustomed to the new system. In Suffolk County, there have been wild swings in the initial counts in the 1st Congressional District and the 1st Assembly District. Meanwhile, in Nassau County, there are reports of ballots that weren’t scanned. Overall, there may be as many as 10 races in dispute throughout the state because of voting discrepancies. All across New York, we heard reports of ballots rejected because voters checked, rather than filled in, the bubble next to a candidate’s name. The law states that every ballot where the voter made their intention clear must be counted, but these ballots weren’t. This is an area that could require further legislation to protect voters. In addition, thousands of votes cast by men and women serving in the military, or who for some other reason were unable to travel to a polling place on Election Day, have yet to be tallied. These citizens have every right to be heard. Make no mistake, we will not allow a rush to judgment to quiet the voice of the people. Democrats have dispatched teams to make certain every vote is counted. Although Republicans want to declare a victory by press release, Democrats understand we have laws to ensure accuracy and fairness in close races. Two years ago, Democrats were able to gain a slim two-seat majority after 43 years of lost jobs, high taxes, inequitable education funding and a health care policy that disenfranchised New Yorkers. Since then, we’ve stimulated job creation, expanded health care access to the underserved, opened up state contracts to more minority- and women-owned businesses, created low-interest student loan programs and forced public authorities like the MTA to be more transparent. We’ve also advanced progressive policies such as reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the NYPD’s invasive stop-and-frisk practices. Whether these policies continue rests on the outcome of these pivotal races. We believe that when the votes are fully counted, we will build on the victories Senate Democrats witnessed on election night. In Queens, Tony Avella, a proven advocate for his community, beat Republican State Sen. Frank Padavan, an incumbent who served for nearly four decades. In Rockland County, David Carlucci of New City was victorious against a Republican political giant, County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef. Carlucci’s win puts this seat in Democratic hands for the first time since 1983. And in Buffalo, Erie County Legislator Tim Kennedy beat Jack Quinn III, the scion of a Republican political dynasty. The importance of the outcome in these three other races cannot be overstated. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I am not interested in power for power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.” We must not and we will not let any voters be passed over by a flawed voting process or a pointless rush to meet an arbitrary deadline for power’s sake. We are ready to go through every ballot to make sure the people’s voice is heard.