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Stuffing ballot boxes

April 9, 2014

Americans hold the ballot box sacred. And so it was no great surprise when many citizens of Bloomingburg, NY celebrated when Judge Stephan Schick, Justice of Sullivan County’s Supreme Court, upheld the county’s Board of Elections (BOE) decision disqualifying dozens of recently registered voters. Those voters had signed up just in time to cast their ballots in the Village of Bloomingburg’s recent election. All of the now officially disqualified voters had been challenged on the grounds that they did not really live at the Bloomingburg addresses they claimed—addresses in buildings owned by Shalom Lamm, who is developing a 396-unit cluster of townhouses in the village. The crucial Bloomingburg mayoral election pitted the current mayor, Mark Berentsen, a supporter of Lamm’s townhouse project, vs. Frank Girardi, a candidate from the Rural Heritage Party, who opposes it. With the challenged votes thrown out, Girardi won, and he was sworn in as the new mayor on Tuesday, April 8.

In his ruling last Thursday, Judge Schick stated, “This was an attempt to stuff the ballot box.”

Stuffing the ballot box is a time-honored form of corruption that can influence elections. But as we see it, another way to influence elections is through political campaign contributions—legitimately and, when abused, illegitimately.

Last week, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), the U.S. Supreme Court handed a victory to big-money donors when it struck down aggregate limits on how much one person can spend in an election cycle to support candidates and party committees. (Previously the limit was $123,200 per election cycle, per individual donor.) Though the court left untouched federal campaign limits that restrict how much a donor can give to any one candidate ($2,600) or to any one party committee, it cleared the way for a single donor to support an unlimited number of candidates and party committees, with the majority calling such limits unconstitutional. Dissenting, Justice Stephen Breyer opined that the decision would allow “a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign.” (Previously, aggregated limits had ceiling of $48,000 for one person to support any combined number of individual candidates and $74,600 to support a combined number of party committees.)