Who knew you didn’t need Republicans in order to disenfranchise inner-city voters?
For all the talk about Ohio, Florida and other states where GOP leaders tried to prevent certain people from voting, it was Democratic Buffalo that may have proved the most successful.
Courts have put a stop to most voter-suppression attempts across the country heading into the Nov. 6 elections. But a judge here put a stop, instead, to efforts to count all votes from Buffalo’s East Side and elsewhere in the tight Democratic primary for the State Senate seat representing most of the city, as well as Lackawanna and Cheektowaga.
State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia late last week ended the counting, handing incumbent Timothy M. Kennedy a 139-vote victory over challenger Betty Jean Grant. The counting ended despite what Grant says are 150 ballots with her name written in that weren’t counted because voters didn’t fill in the bubble, 279 ballots that weren’t counted by machines because voters circled a name, and 62 votes tossed because voters whose polling sites had been switched showed up where they normally voted and were improperly given affidavit ballots instead of being directed to their new sites.
Though he didn’t have specific numbers at hand, Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward disputed Grant’s math, saying that he didn’t recall such a high tally of questionable votes and that the numbers for a Grant victory “just weren’t there.”
What he didn’t dispute is that not every voter who clearly expressed a preference for the Erie County Legislature chairwoman had their vote counted – which is what we should be aiming for.
Beverly Ortez is one. She showed up at the Pratt-Willert Community Center as usual, only to be told her polling site had been moved. But instead of sending her to the new site, poll workers told her to cast an affidavit ballot. That was illegal, so her vote was tossed.
“Being a registered voter who votes often, I feel like my vote should have counted,” Ortez said.
Grant says that many of those and other uncounted ballots came from her East Side stronghold, adding, “This is a form of voter suppression, Buffalo-style.”
The election also was a form of politics, Buffalo-style.
Kennedy used to serve on the County Legislature with Grant. His dalliance with then-Republican County Executive Chris Collins – the worst thing for the city since Dutch elm disease – spoke volumes about his commitment to urban issues.
Yet the Democratic machines – including Mayor Byron W. Brown’s – backed Kennedy over Grant, a constant community presence and fierce advocate. Had Grant gotten support from Buffalo Democrats who should have supported her, we wouldn’t be talking disputed ballots or a razor-thin margin.
With no money for a federal court appeal, Grant is looking ahead, scheduling a voter education workshop with election officials in the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library on Jefferson Avenue at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to make sure that residents aren’t similarly disenfranchised Nov. 6.
According to Ward, the board’s hands were tied by outdated and “very unfair” election laws that need to be changed to look more at voter intent.
That might fix the election system. I don’t know what will fix city Democrats.