NYS Assemblyman John McDonald Won't Declare Victory, But Confident He'll Win 108th District Primary | WAMC

NYS Assemblyman John McDonald Won't Declare Victory, But Confident He'll Win 108th District Primary

Jun 24, 2020

New York State Assemblyman John McDonald says he expects to maintain his lead in the 108th district Democratic primary when absentee ballots are counted. McDonald, a former Cohoes mayor, is going for a fifth term in the district that includes parts of Albany, Rensselaer and Saratoga Counties. He faces Albany County Legislator Sam Fein.

From our perspective, and we've got some of the district numbers that were not reported to the state board of elections, we have a 11 percentage point lead, which is good, and it's something that we expect to build upon. There's a significant amount of absentee ballots out there. Altogether about a little over 5,000 votes came through the door yesterday that's inclusive of early voting. We're looking at probably 4,800 absentee ballots that voters sent in, in an intentional way, over the last couple of weeks, might even grow a little bit, because yesterday was the day that you could mail your ballot in. So we look forward to the opening of those absentee ballots. This is a very interesting year traditionally, and I've been through elections nine different times, you would have 11,000 votes in a race like this. And there would be a handful, maybe a couple hundred of absentee ballots, which usually would run the direction of what came through on Election Day.

In other words, the margins would be what they were in the in-person voting, more or less.

It would not be a significant change. I think in this COVID era, I think that changes. I think, actually, a lot of thoughtful, deliberative individuals, people who are probably more conservative in their thinking, were very intentional in sending in their absentee ballots. I know many people that are elected officials, supporters, told me you votes there already, you're going to have it on. When they open up the absentees, we're not going to go to the polls. So in looking at the list, because we're able to find that information, I see a lot of familiar names, people who have been supportive for decades now. So I look at that as an opportunity. I also look at the fact that you know, Albany is usually a draw when it comes to this race, but outside of Albany where the majority absentee ballots are, I think they're going to be even stronger to our campaign. So, you know, at the end of the day, I don't know the total outcome yet, we will know hopefully, in a week or so. I'm a little bit more interested in the process that's about ready to ensue. Because I'm getting, we haven't gotten clarification if it's going to be opening up each individual ballot, individually checking them like they normally do, or are they going to run them through the machine, like they’re supposed to be done and like they would normally do. I well, shouldn't say normally do, what the new normal would be? These are ballots just like they were run through the machine. When you and I walked in on Election Day, is that what they're going to do? Are they going to open up each individual one and inspect them? Because absentees have always been put under a much tighter scrutiny than the votes that went through the machines.

Have you spoken with Sam Fein, the county legislator who ran against you in this primary?

No, I haven't. I haven't had the opportunity.

OK, because I'm listening closely to what you're saying. You're not declaring victory yet, right?

Oh, no, no, not at all. I would know that's very premature to do that. What I'm recognizing is there's an 11 point lead with all the districts’ information that I have. And, you know, we look at the absentees, and I don't think that's going to detract from that later, but we'll see what happens.

What do you think was the main issue in this race? What were you hearing from voters?

From voters, I heard nothing but support. My opponent was really actually, in his own words, said that pretty much were aligned on the issues. He just would like to be more louder about the issues, which is fine. And that's a choice that elected officials can choose to do. My rule of thumb, and it's probably because of my nature of running a business and running a city is that I listen, I internalize and take in all points of view and then I cast my vote. And on issues where it's in my bailiwick, where my strength is, yeah, I'll be a little bit more louder than normal. But on the other hand, as you might know, because you cover the capitol, there's more than enough people trying to clamor to the microphone to get their 15 minutes of fame. I don't worry about 15 minutes of fame. My focus is on voting the will of the public and as Sam admitted on the issues, were very much aligned. So that being said, my focus on this race was really not focusing on my opponent, was focusing on what I've done. And what I continue to want to do representing the individuals in the 108th assembly district.

Let's talk about how elections are run while we're in this post primary haze, but still waiting for the primary absentee ballots to be counted. Presumably, we're going to have potentially a problem in this country in November where people go to bed on election night and have no idea what direction the country is going in yet. You know, this is a small, relatively small Assembly race where we're not going to open these ballots at least until July 1. What about on a large national election with all these different jurisdictions and boards of election and there's always issues on Election Day? What are you learning from this process about our fall election?

So, you know, it's interesting. And you raise a very good question that involves a little bit of thought. If you look back historically, at least I can speak from my experience, the issues on Election Day was people trying to go to vote, not know where to go vote, and then whatever other items people are up to, as we move away from voting in person on that day to maybe either continuing to grow the early voting, or to do more of a movement towards mail-in voting, we are going to get to a process I believe, if properly done will reduce that confusion or aggravation that people are so used to doing. What is going to change and it's a difficult change. It's difficult change for myself, who has always followed elections and you love the drama and the thrill of the victory on election night, that's not going to happen. It's just not going to happen as much anymore. You know, unless it's an extremely wide margin. I find it a little bit disturbing that the board of elections isn't today opening up the absentee ballots that were already mailed in over the last two weeks. I don't see any reason why they can't. I understand they want to wait a week to make sure everything drifts in. And I get that because of overseas ballots. I fully support that. But I don't know why we're waiting a week to open up these ballots that have been there, that can be properly authenticated. And in all fairness to the poor folks who work at the board of elections, you know, just in the three different county board of elections that I work through, and this selection from 108th Assembly District, there's gonna be 4800 absentee ballots that have to be open. And what is the process? My understanding is, if one of the two parties contest, just running them through the machine and wants to open up each individual one, you're putting a large undue stress on individuals in that board, and that will drag out what could have taken two or three hours to be three or four days. So it's going to be interesting. You know, this is a learning curve. It's a good, this is like the JV game before the varsity game when it comes to the primary and a general election. But, you know, the thought of waking up the day after the election and not know who's gonna be the president, I think is becoming a reality. Although the world doesn't end, life moves on, and within a shorter period of time, we're going to know

Well, as long as you know, by January 20th.

Well, yeah, but in all fairness, if you remember back when George Bush ran the first time because Al Gore, we didn't really til the end of December.

Yeah.

So you know it. You know, history is a good educator. We need to be mindful of that. What I want to focus on is to make sure that we expand mail and options and no excuse absentee which I have a record of supporting. And we want to make sure that they're also not subject to being abused by political operatives, because that has always been traditionally the bad dark cloud over absentee ballots as political operatives would use that to snooker the unknown, whether it's those who aren't aware or the elderly. Everyone's vote is sacred, and we need to be very, very respectful of that.

Well, to that end, I mean, we've heard a lot of anecdotal reports of people who requested the absentee ballot, didn't get one in time. Or they were confused about when it had to be postmarked by. I know the legislature allowed postmarks of the absentee ballots as late as Tuesday. But should lawmakers come back before November's elections, assuming we're going to be doing another mail-in vote, assuming the pandemic is still spreading and so on. If we're going to have a fall election, like the one we've just had here are the things that should be fixed legislatively.

Well, I think, you know, the fact that we actually extended the mailing to the actual day of election, I think was a very good thing. That's not the way things have always been with absentee. So I think that's already a lesson learned. I think Ian, to your question, I think we really did identify, you know, who didn't get an absentee? Did you follow the process? Because, understandably, there was a lot of confusion during this process. There are still there are people who didn't know they had to fill out an application to get an absentee. There are individuals who had no idea that even though they fill out the absentee they could still vote in person. And there were many people out there who thought they couldn't vote in person at all, irrespective. And you know, that was conflated with the fact that the school board was write-in only. So the public was definitely confused, we need to do a better job of being more clear about it. And if in fact, people did not receive ballots that they requested, that's going to require a deeper dive, deeper investigation, then whether it's regulation or statutory language that had to be considered, we would look into it, but we need to get our facts first. That's the most important thing. And as you know, we're talking about public policy. We also live in a political environment. We live in a hyper-political environment where, you know, whether it's within our own party squabbles, where one group may be more vocal than the other, or whether it's between the traditional Democrat Republican parties. You know, there's a lot of hyperbole that gets thrown into the mix, which causes more confusion. We need to sort through that and really get to the issue because at the end of the day, irrespective of what your political beliefs are, or where your leanings are, we all agree that every individual that's a citizen in this country has their right to vote, and we never, ever should put that at risk.

New York State Assemblyman John McDonald of the 108th district, talking about the Democratic primary, and let's say it's to be continued because we still have to find out what those absentees say.

Yeah, I agree. It's to be continued. No one should be declaring victory and I appreciate the time.