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Editorial: Why New York needs electoral-ballot reforms

Rejected by other parties, Brookhaven Town Board member

Rejected by other parties, Brookhaven Town Board member Kathleen Walsh is running for re-election as a Democrat. (March 5, 2013) Credit: John Roca

Voters looking for evidence that the political system on Long Island is a cynically dysfunctional mess are getting plenty.

In Brookhaven, Town Board member Kathleen Walsh is now an elected official without a party. She's not yet an Independence Party member, though she switched her registration to it earlier this year, because it takes between one and two years for such changes to take effect. She's not a Republican, because her tendency to side with Democrats and run against other Republicans on the Democratic line made the other Republicans so mad they booted her for disloyalty. She isn't a Democrat, though she recently ran for highway superintendent and is now seeking re-election to her board seat on that line, because . . . err . . . good question.

Make sense? No, it doesn't. Both Walsh and her political opponents have done plenty of cynical calculating. Both are far from blameless.

But it's the system that's encouraging such manipulations to fester.

Eight years ago, Walsh was elected to the Town Board as a Republican. In that role she worked closely with then-Supervisor Mark Lesko, a Democrat, who named her deputy supervisor. This did not sit well with Republican leaders in Brookhaven, and two years ago she was denied the party's nomination to her seat, though she was able to claim the line via petitions. Then came her losing run for the highway post against then-GOP Assemb. Daniel Losquadro, which she sought on the Democratic line after he became the GOP's pick.

Now the Republican Party has officially booted her out of its ranks, calling her a RINO (Republican in name only) who engaged in multiparty gamesmanship. Walsh's change of registration to the Independence Party won't take effect until after the November election, and that party has given its line to her Republican opponent. So she is seeking re-election on the Democratic line, practically the only party she's never showed any desire to join.

On a bigger stage, we have Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota running for a fourth term, with judges so far supporting his assertion that the term limits Suffolk voters approved don't apply to Spota's constitutionally mandated office. Spota is probably right on the law. And if voters really want to limit him to three terms, they could do so by voting him out, right? Well, not really.

Spota is endorsed by the Democratic, Conservative, Independence and Republican parties, and faces a primary challenge, only for the Republican line, from Raymond Perini, a former co-worker who is challenging the pick by the GOP bosses. Spota's job is a big one, and he has never been challenged, in the heat of an election, to explain his highly unusual deal that forced former County Executive Steve Levy from office and made Levy forfeit $4 million in political contributions, or his handling of several controversial police investigations. This isn't a criticism of Spota, it's a criticism of cross endorsements.

Walsh has been the architect of much of her own trouble, but it shouldn't take so long to change parties. Thirty days would be plenty.

Starting with an end to cross-endorsing, we need Albany to enact real reform to force third parties to stand for something other than influence peddling. We need to limit parties stomping on candidates who don't play ball, by making it easier to get in primaries. And we need to allow reasonably quick changes in party registration. Until these changes come, the voters will be the losers in every election.

This is a corrected version. An earlier version stated incorrectly that Ramond Perini was a former employee of Spota's.