Three Easy Pieces (On Voting)


Tip O’Neill, who ended his career as a politician as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, loved to tell a story about a lesson he learned from one of his early races.

An elderly widow lived across the street and Tip was a gracious neighbor–shoveling her walk in the winter and cutting her grass in the summer. After one fairly close election, the widow stunned Tip by saying that she had voted for his opponent. When he asked her why she replied “because you never asked me.” Tip replied: “… but I didn’t think I would have to ask you.” The widow then replied: “people like to be asked, Tip.” For the rest of his career, O’Neill not only asked voters directly for their votes, but he made a point of asking his wife for her vote before they left for the polls.

This is a perfect example of the kind of retail politics that exists only in the most local of races. We have lost this kind of personal connection to candidates–as the candidates have lost their connections to us. Now it’s all about raising a shitload of money, airing your TV commercials and responding to the opponent’s attack ads.

People like to be asked for their vote–I’m not so sure they like being incessantly yelled at and told not to vote for the other guy ’cause they are crooks, socialists or reprobates.


While paper ballots fed into a ballot reader may be more accessible and leave a paper trail for recounts, they aren’t foolproof. I spoiled two ballots today before the poll workers found out why the ballot reader kept saying I had “ambiguous marks” on my ballot. I voted write in candidates for all the uncontested races (the judicial positions). The person contacted at the Board of Elections informed the poll worker that if my printed write in names were not bold enough, the machine could not read them and declare the names were ambiguous. After tracing over the names, my ballot was accepted. One poll worker said voters were only allowed three spoiled ballots. I wonder what would happen after that–filling in an affidavit ballot?


Being a progressive and a Democrat, I got tons of snail mail and e-mails asking me to vote straight tickets–either Democratic or Working Families. I ignored this advice and took full advantage of NY’s minor parties. I voted for:

Howie Hawkins on the Green Party line, since he’s the only candidate that has not pledged to take a meataxe to state programs for the poor and union members.

Harry Wilson on the Independence Party line for Comptroller since: a) I refuse to vote on the Republican line and b) he is more qualified than his opponent, a political appointment engineered by Assembly leader Sheldon Silver.

Toby Shelley for Sheriff, Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General, and both Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand for U.S. Senate on the Working Families Party line–to remind them all that lefty Democrats can’t be ignored in N.Y.

Dan Maffei for U.S. Rep. 25th District and Dave Valesky NY State Senate on the Democratic Party line–because these are going to be tight races and I want each candidate to look like they have momentum on their party line on election night. Minor party ballots get counted later.

My votes for all the judicial races were all write-in nominations. By temperment, I refuse to vote for someone running unopposed and none of the candidates for County Court, Family Court and City Court have an opponent. I’m very excited about my judicial votes and I doubt that any of the endorsed candidates would be a better jurist than my handpicked slate:

County Court: John Marshall (September 24, 1755 – July 6, 1835): The first great jurist, the man who codified judicial review.

Family Court (choose two):

Learned Hand (January 27, 1872 – August 18, 1961):
Sat on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and later the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Cited more than any other jurist by legal scholars and the Supreme Court.

William O. Douglas (October 16, 1898 – January 19, 1980): Longest serving Supreme Court Justice–committed civil libertarian.

City Court (choose two):

William J. Brennan, Jr. (April 25, 1906 – July 24, 1997):
Authored Baker v. Carr–establishing one man, one vote principle.

Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 – January 24, 1993): As an attorney, he engineered the legal strategy that overturned the theory of “separate but equal” in public schools–the first breach in the wall of segregation. First African American to serve on the Supreme Court.


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