The Village of Great Neck election was a contest of issues and policies vs. fear and loathing. Fear and loathing won out.
This was the saddest, scariest campaign in memory, where you had one side desperately trying to discuss issues and present a vision and the other side weaponizing character assassination.
It was the triumph of Trumpist negative campaigning and a foreboding sign of what is ahead at all levels of elected office. If this is a village election where intense tribalism trumps all else, where the incumbent, with all the clear advantages and likelihood of winning (including who is appointed to manage the election), refuses to discuss issues or provide a vision for the future, but focuses exclusively on character assassination and dirty tricks, you can only imagine what’s ahead in national politics.
Certainly, it brought out one of the highest turnouts of any village election – 2,500 votes cast out of 5,899 registered voters – but is this what it takes, telling people that they are in danger of their village being taken over by “them”? The message is that negative attacks and avoidance of actual record of performance or issues win.
But that turnout is questionable. Some poll watchers reported seeing people attempting to vote in someone else’s place and in some cases succeeding. The people manning the books, responsible for checking signatures – most of them supporters of the incumbent regime – didn’t seem to look if the signature matched. “We had no recourse,” one told me. The Board of Elections said its only role was to maintain the machines, while the Nassau County district attorney said its ability to act in a local election was limited.
I would suggest an audit of the election books to check signatures against prior elections and that those who voted absentee did not also vote in person.
Those who misrepresented themselves or voted twice should be prosecuted for voter fraud, and there should be penalties if an election inspector knowingly allowed it to happen. We have been seeing all too often in this Age of Trump that lawlessness (campaign violations, foreign cooperation) goes unpunished as long as you are victorious.
I also would suggest that voters be required to present ID – not voter ID in the way it has been abused by Republicans to suppress votes by blacks, women (whose name changes with marriage), young people, urban residents (who don’t have a driver’s licenses), the poor who may be renting and moving frequently whose address can be challenged, and the elderly who may not have the documentation or registered Democrats based on an initial or hyphen.
Republicans have made it very difficult to obtain acceptable ID (in Texas, a gun license is OK but not a college ID). Once a voter is registered to vote in a particular district, he or she should only have to provide any kind of photo ID in order to sign the register and vote. And there should be clearer rules about eligibility to vote in the last place you were registered (young people move around a lot).
It is likely that Mayor Pedram Bral would have been re-elected anyway, but possibly not by a “landslide,” which he will undoubtedly take as a mandate (look at what is happening with the expansion of the synagogue at Piccadilly and Middle Neck Road – evidence of how he approaches development).
Even though village elections have nothing to do with the national political parties (which is why they take on such creative names like Better Government Party), partisans, or rather tribalists, in the Village of Great Neck copied the Trump campaign playbook: trolls, masquerading as somebody else (that is identity theft and ruined someone’s reputation, which is a thing of value, so should be prosecuted); libel, slander were committed; the seemingly petty theft of yard signs which is not only theft of property but interference with someone else’s freedom of speech. There was even hate mail designed to intimidate and shut down free speech.
One could argue that character assassination is protected by the First Amendment, and even more vigorously protected as political speech.
But the same laws against slander, libel, fraudulent advertising, impersonation should apply. Also, there should be a requirement to disclose who is behind (and paying for) the speech – in print, online, in social media.
And why does it matter?
Because the reputation of one of our neighbors was smeared. Because who we elect to local government directly affects the quality of our daily life. And because of the ramifications for other elections: it doesn’t take many votes in a small targeted district to flip a state – as we have seen in the 2016 Election: just 77,000 votes spread among three states flipped the Electoral College for Trump (and I’m not satisfied that Russians didn’t actually flip switches, just as they hacked into election rolls in 20 states).
You don’t think that 2020 campaigns will perfect that tactic?
The same night as the village election, Trump was officially launching his 2020 campaign at a rally in Orlando. What was he trumpeting? Attacking Hillary Clinton (seven times). Drain the Swamp (it’s his swamp now and never been swampier). Build the Wall (that boat has sailed).
Trump has elevated negative campaigning, the art of the smear, outright lying (11,000 and counting) to new despicable heights. In light of the social media phenomenon – the ease with which bots, trolls, or simply campaign soldiers can spread false and destructive slurs, disinformation, misinformation, propaganda need to be addressed.
Because under the current regime, you only need to win, whether by hook or by crook and then you are untouchable.
More about what needs to be done for real election integrity in a future column.