Kicked out of the Campaign Solar System
August 27th, 2006

On the same day that Pluto was dropped from the planet roster, Assembly District 58 candidate Wellington Sharpe was ejected from his race against incumbent Nick Perry. Sharpe is just one of several state legislature hopefuls who had their status challenged this summer. Like so many Plutos, many of these candidates have been bumped off the ballot, emptying the solar system of primary elections and excluding the public from the decision of who their next representative will be.

To be considered a planet, an object must be massive enough to stay in a round shape and be in a steady orbit of a star. Candidates running for the New York state legislature have similar requirements. Instead of planetary mass, an individual must demonstrate the weight of his or her candidacy through petition signatures. Instead of following a specific orbit, an aspiring candidate must reside within the district of the office sought. While an international conference of astronomers did Pluto in, candidate claims have been made by individuals filing challenges with the board of elections, sometime escalating to the courts.

Candidates must collect 1,000 signatures to run for state senate and 500 to run for state assembly. To ensure enough valid signatures, candidates typically submit twice the required amount. Challenges are frequent, and can be lobbied by any individual. Two of the candidates running in open seats who were recently challenged on their petitions, Juan Pagan (Assembly District 74) and Terrence Park (Assembly District 22), took the battles to court. In Pagans case, the court called the petition forms and rules inherently oblique and confusing. Unlike Pluto, both candidates have since been reinstated on the ballot, but only after burning up time and money to defend their candidacies.

A candidate for state legislature must also reside in the state for five years and in the district he or she is running in for at least one year prior to the election, with some flexibility in a redistricting year. Just as astronomers questioned Plutos orbit ducking into Neptunes path, some candidates have had their residencies questioned. Grace Meng (Assembly District 22) had to withdraw from the election because of this requirement, and Ken Diamondstone (Senate District 25) successfully defended his residency claim against election lawyer and incumbent senator Martin Connor. Diamondstone fought through the challenge, as well as the subsequent court case and appeal, to stay on the ballot.

In 2004, this residency requirement prevented popular insurgent candidate Hakeem Jeffries from challenging incumbent Roger Green after Greens resignation because Jeffriess home had been cut out of the district. This districting maneuver could be the equivalent of Neptune shifting its own path to sabotage Plutos trajectory, though Neptune was never forced to resign from the solar system because of misdemeanor charges.

Though demoted, Pluto remains in the solar system with popular support, but Sharpe, Meng, and other bumped candidates may as well be in another galaxy. In the end, New Yorkers have one less planet and many fewer primary elections to watch.

By on August 27, 2006, 11:44 pm
In category: Eye on Albany | Comments Off on Kicked out of the Campaign Solar System

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