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Editorial: Westchester County post, party job could divide loyalties

It's time for Westchester County's election commissioners to start wearing fewer hats. Not two, three, four or even five as is being done by Republican Doug Colety.

In addition to his $155,245-a-year county job, Colety serves as chairman of the Westchester County Republican Committee, regional vice chair for the state party and owns a printing company -- Executive Star Mailing in Mamaroneck -- that has made millions off candidates running for office, much of it while he has led the party. He's also chairman of the New Rochelle GOP.

Hard work and public service are virtues, but it's Colety's roles as elections commissioner, party boss and printer for the Republicans that should raise concerns since the combination blurs the line between partisan politics and the policing of elections.

Holding these jobs simultaneously is not illegal, and no wrongdoing has been alleged. In addition, judging from the silence of some political insiders on both sides of the aisle, being elections commissioner and a party boss is not even frowned upon. It's an accepted part of New York's political culture.

The New York State Republican Committee uses Colety's business for printing. As do County Executive Rob Astorino and scores of other Republicans when they're running for state and local offices.

The simultaneous county and party jobs, however, raise questions about which role takes precedence for the chairman, or um, commissioner, or business owner. In fact, Neal Rosenstein of New York Public Interest Research Group, a good-government organization, summed it up like this: "The appearance is rotten."

When you consider the Board of Elections is supposed to administer elections -- handle the ballots, tally the results, recount and audit them if necessary -- there's the potential for conflicts. For example, when push comes to shove, who is the priority -- the voter, candidate or client?

In Westchester, Colety isn't alone. Reginald Lafayette serves as chairman of the Democratic Party and elections commissioner. The two also receive county cars for their service.

Boards of elections across the state have one Democratic commissioner and one Republican commissioner. The system is designed that way and defenders like it when their fox watches the other's chicken coop. That's the best way to keep the two parties honest, they say, but it comes across as the two major parties watching their own interests and maintaining the two-party status quo.

Reforms are needed -- both on a county and state level. In Westchester, voters would be better served if the elections commissioners weren't the party bosses -- or being paid by candidates to mail out political fliers.

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