Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Still the sovereign people

It’s primary day in New York State, and the scene at my local precinct resembled something between a Laurel & Hardy routine and a sketch from SNL. When the first thing you hear upon entering the area is two election workers arguing with each other—loudly—it is not a good sign.

We have new voting machines now, another technological answer to a problem we didn’t know we had. First, you have to fill in the little noughts like on an SAT, then the whole sheet goes into a scanner and, we assume, records one’s vote. The ladies showing me how to do it kept insisting that I unfold the ballot face up until I rather too firmly reminded them that the ballot is supposed to be secret. No doubt their training focused on the mechanics of the process rather than the underlying concepts.

We have several races of interest here, including the Republican governor’s primary between a Wall Street sharpie (Lazio) and a furry creature last seen scurrying through the pages of a Victorian horror novel (Paladino). We’re rooting for the latter because it would be fun to watch a race between a moderately functional biped (Cuomo) and a misfire of the evolutionary process. Cuomo could possibly lose the general election by being discovered fondling little girls. Short of that, um, not likely.

In the local races there is the ongoing saga of a true scumbag mafioso fighting to stay in the state Senate (of which he is the president, no less) and, not incidentally, out of jail. Pedro Espada, Jr., is the perfect example of that type of ruthless, amoral political operative who can sometimes attract remarkable loyalty because he steals so much money that he can spread some of it around to his thugs and the merrily corruptible. A competent campaign to oust him from his Bronx seat is given a chance, but by no means a guarantee, of success.

The real horse race is the job Cuomo is leaving behind, that of state attorney general. In New York that means you can investigate and prosecute big banks, insurance companies and other Wall Street criminals, so it has long been a step to higher things as it was for Cuomo and the notorious Eliot Spitzer before him. My old state senator, Eric Schneiderman, is in the running and deserves to win if only for his relentless, extremely patient and successful campaign to overturn the horrible Rockefeller drug laws. His main opponent is a careerist hack who was a Republican most of her life and didn’t bother to vote until she was 37, i.e. after we had suffered through two terms with W.

Hardly anyone bothers to vote in primaries, so those of us who pay attention to these things have a greater than usual chance of actually influencing the outcome. I was kind of sorry for snapping at the precinct workers who were trying to be helpful, but living in a military dictatorship gives you a perspective on what it means when these exercises are either fixed or non-existent. I take the suffrage seriously and like to see it done right. Okay, so the system’s a wreck, but the alternatives are worse.

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