After Unexpected Setback Simon Conroy Campaigns On
|Simon Conroy [L] and Clyde Rabideau. Photo provided.|
(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush
PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - 7/1/16
Thursday, June 9th. American Legion Post 20, Plattsburgh Town. Simon Conroy, new to politics, walks into the special meeting assuming that it will run like others he has attended. One person - one vote.
This evening the Clinton County Democratic Committee will choose its candidate to campaign for the county legislature Area 4 seat. Up for the party's endorsement are Simon, local businessman/community organizer, and George Dyer, retired state trooper.
Around 60 people are present, about twice the usual attendance for a monthly CCDC meeting. The crowd has supporters for each candidate, all mixed in.
Format: Simon supporters speak, then Simon, then George supporters peak, then George.
The vote will be taken at 8 PM. Unlike other meetings it will be a secret ballot as opposed to a show of hands. There is no discussion about the procedure.
Simon recalls: "I was OK with the secret vote as I thought it would be hard for some of my supporters to vote for me in front of George's three prominent family members in the room."
Located in the northeastern corner of New York State Clinton County covers a total of 1,118 squares miles, most of it rural. And while the population is low in numbers there is a small town aspect: many citizens are related/know each other.
At the meeting are George Dyer's brother, Sam Dyer, who is presently serving as a legislator. Also there's George's two sisters-in-law, Mary Dyer, the County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner, and Sydney Garrant, at that time Vice Chair of the CCDC, now temporary Chair since the previous one has retired.
Circumstances remain friendly. Before the vote Simon has a drink with his opponent, chats with him. They get to know each other.
The results come in. Simon, assuming the usual democratic procedure of one vote per person, thinks the vote will be close, 30/30.
The final total: 2,350 to 850, George Dyer wins.
There is a gasp from Simon's supporters. How can this be?
Weighted voting blindsides tyro policitican Simon and his supporters.
Under a weighted voting system some voters have preference over others, their votes counting more than once depending upon a mathematical formula. It isn't the usual one person - one vote citizens in a democracy expect. With the Clinton County Democratic Committee each member's voting power is based on the voter turnout by Dems in that member's area in the last gubernatorial electrion.
Simon: "I have since learned the secret ballot - weighted vote is only used in very close or sensitive votes. My experience at meetings had been a show of hands popular vote which does not use the weighted system."
After the vote Simon visits BOE Democratic Commissioner Mary Dyer, asking if there was a list that showed which area representatives had the strongest weight.
It's a different game with weighted voting. Instead of trying to corner the popular vote the candidate must win over those representatives with the most voting power.
This comes in play with the presidential race. In 2000 Democrat Al Gore had over half-a-million popular votes over his opponent. But Republican George Dubya Shrub locked up key states (well, maybe not Florida) for more electoral votes, resulting in the most dubious presidency in US history.
Not how a true democracy should operate.
Simon: "I have since requested a copy of the weight of committee members representing the various areas in the county. Most people are worth about 150 votes... Many are only worth 50 and some are worth 250."
Simon adds that the voting weight of each party member is customarily not made public due to privacy concerns.
And why was Simon caught off guard?
He had received a general email with an explanation of the rules for how a candidate would be endorsed. The main focus was on whether members of the whole county or just Area 4 would vote. He never saw any mention of weighted voting. BOE Democratic Commissioner Mary Dyer informs him weighted voting information is publicly available.
No one told Simon. The info may be public but one has to know it is there.
After the unexpected setback Simon spends the weekend mulling over whether or not to run in the primary against George Dyer. He considers a number of factors.
Many voters tell him they still want him as a choice in November. Another factor: he had more personal time after selling his business that required many hours every day of the week.
Simon: "Also our two girls are getting a little more grown up and independent and are interested in how leadership on a local and national level works."
And then there was the phone call from Clyde Rabideau, former Plattsburgh City mayor and present Saranac Lake mayor. Clyde says Simon was a person with a proven track record with a passion to improve the area.
With such enthusiasm Simon decides there was only one way to go.
Monday, June 13th. 2 PM. Outside the Old Courthouse in downtown Plattsburgh Simon announces to his supporters and the news media he will run in the primary.
Simon: "I need to inspire hundreds of people who do not usually vote in a primary to come out on Sept 13th... I need people in Area 4 who are fed up with inactive representatives and are not registered to sign up now and get behind this campaign so things can finally change both within the party and within local government."
The way democracy is supposed to work.