AP NEWS

Editorial Election disputes should go to courts

May 9, 2019

It’s mostly faded into the background at this point, but the fact remains that a member of the state House of Representatives is in office by virtue of highly unusual circumstances.

Phil Young, a Democrat who represents Stratford, won his re-election race in November by only 13 votes. That’s a tight margin but nothing controversial. The problem came when it was discovered that 76 people at one polling place were given the wrong ballot, effectively disenfranchising them. It’s no stretch to think the thin margin could have gone the other way had all those people been given the chance to properly vote.

This points to a number of problems in the state’s diffuse elections systems, including that district boundaries are too often mistaken and voters — and even candidates — can find themselves divided up in unintended ways. That’s a problem the state has moved to take action to solve.

What shows no sign of changing is a method for resolving questionable elections, such as in Stratford.

The issue went before state courts following the November election, and, correctly interpreting state law, the courts sent it right back to the Legislature. It’s up to each body, the House and the Senate, to determine its membership, and that includes solving election-related disputes.

This has received less attention than it might have had the partisan divide in the House been closer, as it was just last session. But with Democrats holding a commanding advantage this term, the question of one more seat for either party maybe hasn’t seemed quite so dire.

That, of course, leaves open the possibility of a future dispute affecting a chamber with an even split between the parties, where the winner of a local election would determine which party holds sway in an Assembly chamber and gains all the powers that go with such a status.

The Democratic majority has shown little interest in settling the dispute, and shows every sign of simply running out the clock until the session ends in June. With an abbreviated session scheduled next year, much of the work required of a representative would be done even as negotiations continue on how to proceed.

Left up to the Legislature, the governing party will always find a way to rule in its own favor. There are likely to be other reasons provided, but in the end political power comes first. The House decides, and the majority gets what it wants.

Republicans tried to find a solution, introducing an amendment this week that would allow candidates to seek relief from the courts in the event of a contested election. The amendment failed, predictably, along party lines.

Democrats should recognize they could someday find themselves on the other side of this story.

With so many variables at play, there may have been no fair way to decide the mess of the 120th District race.

But it shouldn’t be up to the parties to make that call. This should be up to the courts.