Libertarian Eric Sundwall might not have been a major challenge to Democrat Scott Murphy or Republican James Tedisco in Tuesday's special election, but a week prior to the polls opening, he was at least in the race.
That ended on Wednesday, March 25, when Sundwall threw in the towel after the state Board of Elections invalidated thousands of voter signatures he had collected to petition a place on the ballot. The ruling of the board's commissioners to throw out nearly 4,000 signatures leaving Sundwall short of the 3,500 required has touched off a debate that is all-too-familiar to third-party candidates running for office in the Empire State.
The petition challenges originated from Donald Neddo of Waterford and Laurie Kelly Sickles of Ballston Spa. Under New York State election law, any voter in the election district may issue a challenge.
But Sundwall and other third-party candidates say that the law allows signatures to be thrown out on technicalities that don't affect the signer's intent.
"The problem is that these laws are outdated, and they really need to be brought up to speed with more modern methods," said Sundwall. "It's just not fair to the voters these requirements basically destroy their intent."
Signatures on petitions can be invalidated for three reasons, according to state Board of Elections Spokesman Bob Brehm. Information on the signature witness (the campaign worker, most likely) can be lacking, the witness can fail to initial changes on the petition or the signer might be ineligible to vote (whether they are not registered or registered at a different address).
On Sundwall's petition, thousands of signatures were tossed because of a mistake one election worker made.
"As an administrative agency, we make decisions based on what the law is, not what the law should be," said Brehm. "When the information in the witness identification is still wrong, the statute says it needs to be there and it needs to be correct."