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ELECTION 2017
Overall, it's a competitive election year on the local level

Voters, rejoice. For the first time in more than a decade, some races in the region are finally competitive.

Election Day still has more unchallenged candidates than not, but there will be some new choices on Tuesday. Polls will be open throughout the region from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Three Washington County supervisor races are competitive for the first time in a decade. Two Glens Falls positions are competitive for the first time since 2005, and in Johnsburg, every single seat is competitive for the first time in recent memory. Even the highway superintendent and town clerk are being challenged there — positions that rarely have competition.

“We’ve never really had all of our races contested at the same time,” said Republican Peter Olesheski, a Johnsburg Town Board member who is running for supervisor.

Many of the new candidates are running for the first time, also. Queensbury candidate Catherine Atherden was one of several who said the presidential election was a motivating factor.

“The 2016 election energized me,” said Atherden, a Democrat. “It confirmed my theory: change really does come from the ground up.”

In Salem, another Democrat emerged to replace the “placeholder” candidate offered by the Democrats just to raise issues in a lost cause against Republican supervisor candidate Bruce Ferguson.

Democrat Evera “Sue” Clary listened to a debate between Ferguson and Salem Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Bellanca and decided she could do better.

“I heard (Bellanca) at a debate and afterward I said to him, ‘Look, if you really want to do this, OK, but if you’re just running so that someone is running, I want to run,” Clary said. “I feel very strongly about this.”

Bellanca immediately gave up the job.

It’s the first time in more than a decade that Salem has two vehement candidates vying for the supervisor’s seat.

At the most local level, there’s usually the most activity. Most of the seats for Queensbury and Glens Falls Common Council wards, supervisor and mayor are being hotly contested, and are every four years.

Moreau also regularly has competitive races, as it does this year.

Still, six of the 17 Washington County supervisors are enjoying a long streak of unopposed races. Five others are getting a break this year after being opposed in previous elections. That leaves just six competitive races at the supervisor level in Washington County.

For everyone else, Tuesday is Decision Day.


State-and-regional
Voters to decide NYC mayor, constitutional convention
Voters to decide NYC mayor, constitutional convention

ALBANY — Tuesday’s ballot will ask voters whether they want to call a constitutional convention, where delegates would consider changes to the state’s governing document.

If the question passes, voters would later elect delegates and, following the convention in 2019, vote on whether to accept or reject any proposed changes to the constitution.

The last convention was held in 1967.

Supporters say a convention would be an opportunity to address the state’s chronic political corruption and strengthen protections for education, health care and the environment. Some groups are proposing ambitious goals, such as the legalization of marijuana or a complete overhaul of the state’s bicameral legislature.

Opponents argue a convention is too risky. They worry deep-pocketed special interests could take over a convention and undermine existing constitutional safeguards. An odd assortment of individuals and groups have joined forces to campaign against a convention, including labor unions, gun rights supporters, Planned Parenthood, anti-abortion groups, top Republicans and leading Democrats.

Polls had shown lukewarm support for a convention until recently.

Support for a constitutional convention in New York dropped significantly in recent weeks and likely voters now oppose the idea by a 2-1 margin, according to a Siena College poll released Wednesday.

The survey found that 57 percent of respondents plan to vote no on the question of calling a constitutional convention in next week’s election. Twenty-five percent said they will vote yes.

Sixty percent of respondents said they believe a constitutional convention will be a waste of time.

Turnout for the off-year election is expected to be slight.

OTHER BALLOT MEASURES

Voters will also decide the fate of a proposed constitutional amendment allowing judges to strip the pensions of corrupt officials, no matter when they were elected.

A 2011 law allowed judges to revoke or reduce pensions of crooked lawmakers, but it didn’t apply to sitting lawmakers at the time. A constitutional amendment is needed to cover all lawmakers, no matter when they were elected. This year’s ballot question, if approved, will close that loophole.

More than 30 lawmakers have left office facing allegations of corruption or misconduct since 2000, yet officials have done little to shore up Albany’s lax campaign finance and ethics rules. Supporters say the proposed amendment would be a powerful deterrent, though some good-government groups question whether it will do much to discourage wrongdoing when the threat of prison apparently hasn’t been enough.

Polls show widespread support for the measure.

A second proposed amendment on the ballot would tweak land conservation rules in the Adirondacks to make it easier for local governments to use state lands for public works projects.

COUNTY EXECUTIVE RACES

Upstate in Rensselaer County, GOP Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin faces Democrat Andrea Smyth for the open position.

Nassau County will elect a new county executive to replace Ed Mangano, who faces federal corruption charges. Democratic county legislator Laura Curran, former state Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican, and Green Party candidate Cassandra Lems are all vying for the job.

In suburban Westchester Count, Republican County Executive Rob Astorino is facing a spirited challenge from Democratic Sen. George Latimer. Astorino has raised more money but the county leans Democratic.

SYRACUSE MAYOR

No matter who wins, Syracuse will be getting a new mayor.

Democrat Juanita Perez Williams faces Republican Laura Lavine, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Ben Walsh from the Independence and Reform parties in the race to succeed two-term Mayor Stephanie Miner.

Perez Williams is an attorney who has worked as a prosecutor and a former associate dean of students at Syracuse University. Lavine is a former local school superintendent. Walsh is a business and development adviser at a local law firm.

Miner is term-limited and considered a possible challenger to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in next year’s gubernatorial race.


Trump's Asia trip presents a crucial international test
Trump's Asia trip presents a crucial international test

HONOLULU — On his most grueling and consequential trip abroad, President Donald Trump stands ready to exhort Asian allies and rivals on the need to counter the dangers posed by North Korea’s nuclear threat.

The 12-day, five-country trip, the longest Far East itinerary for a president in a generation, comes at a precarious moment for Trump. Just days ago, his former campaign chairman was indicted and another adviser pleaded guilty as part of an investigation into possible collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russian officials.

With Trump set to arrive Sunday in Japan, the trip presents a crucial international test for a president looking to reassure Asian allies worried that his inward-looking “America First” agenda could cede power in the region to China. They also are rattled by his bellicose rhetoric about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The North’s growing missile arsenal threatens the capitals Trump will visit.

“The trip comes, I would argue, at a very inopportune time for the president. He is under growing domestic vulnerabilities that we all know about, hour to hour,” said Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “The conjunction of those issues leads to the palpable sense of unease about the potential crisis in Korea.”

Trump’s spontaneous, and at time reckless, style flies in the face of the generations-old traditions and protocol that govern diplomatic exchanges in Asia. The grand receptions expected for him in Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and beyond are sure to be lavish attempts to impress the president, who raved about the extravagances shown him on earlier visits to Saudi Arabia and France.

The trip will also put Trump in face-to-face meetings with authoritarian leaders for whom he has expressed admiration. They include China’s Xi Jinping, whom Trump has likened to “a king,” and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, who has sanctioned the extrajudicial killings of drug dealers.

Trump may also have the chance for a second private audience with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of a summit in Vietnam.

The White House is signaling that Trump will push American economic interests in the region, but the North Korean threat is expected to dominate the trip. One of Trump’s two major speeches will come before the National Assembly in Seoul. Fiery threats against the North could resonate differently than they do from the distance of Washington.

Trump will forgo a trip to the Demilitarized Zone, the stark border between North and South Korea. All U.S. presidents except one since Ronald Reagan have visited the DMZ in a sign of solidarity with Seoul. The White House contends that Trump’s commitment to South Korea is already crystal clear, as evidenced by his war of words with Kim and his threats to deliver “fire and fury” to North Korea if it does not stop threatening American allies.

The escalation of rhetoric, a departure from the conduct of past presidents, has undermined confidence in the U.S. as a stabilizing presence in Asia.

“There’s a danger if there is a lot of muscle flexing,” said Mike Chinoy, a senior fellow at the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California. “Trump has been going right up to the edge and I wouldn’t rule out some sort of forceful North Korean reaction to Trump’s presence in the region,” he said.

The White House said Trump would be undeterred.

“The president will use whatever language he wants to use, obviously. That’s been of great reassurance to our allies, partners and others in the region who are literally under the gun of this regime,” White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said Thursday. “I don’t think the president really modulates his language, have you noticed?”

At each stop, Trump will urge his hosts to squeeze North Korea by stopping trading with the North and sending home North Korean citizens working abroad. That includes China, which competes with the U.S. for influence in the region and provides much of North Korea’s economic lifeblood.

The White House is banking on the close relationships Trump has established with some Asian leaders to help make his demands more palatable.

Officials acknowledge that Trump does not yet have a feel for Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s newly elected liberal president. But Trump has demonstrated cordial relations with Xi and struck up a friendship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom he planned to golf on Sunday.

While Xi and Abe have recently tightened their control on power, Trump arrives weakened by low poll numbers, a stalled domestic agenda and the swirling Russia probe.

Many in the Asian capitals will view Trump warily.

His early withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership demolished the Obama administration’s effort to boost trade with some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and sustain America’s post-World War II strategic commitment to Asia.

Trump is expected to outline his economic vision for the region, which includes a preference for one-to-one relationships over multinational agreements, during a speech at a summit in Vietnam. He is not expected to offer any concrete economic policy changes while in Asia, though some new contracts for American businesses may be announced.

His administration’s eager embrace of a deeper strategic partnership with India and other democracies across the Pacific risks alienating China and Pakistan. The White House did, at the last minute, extend the trip for an extra day so Trump could attend the East Asia Summit in the Philippines.

At the same time, Trump can point to some early successes in Asia.

He won Beijing’s support for the toughest international sanctions yet on North Korea. Tensions in the disputed South China Sea that escalated as China conducted a massive land-reclamation effort on Obama’s watch have ebbed. Long-standing U.S. alliances with Thailand and the Philippines have been repaired by engaging their authoritarian leaders and sidelining human rights concerns, though the White House suggested Trump may chide Duterte privately.

“How much does it help to yell about these problems?” McMaster said.

The White House hopes the trip could offer a chance at a reset as a tumultuous first year in office winds down. Trump’s advisers see it as an opportunity for the president to forcefully assert U.S. pledges to its allies and deliver a fierce warning directly to North Korea’s Kim, whom he has belittled as “little Rocket Man.”

Trump’s trip will be the longest Asia visit for any U.S. president since George H.W. Bush went there in 1992, when he fell ill during a state dinner with Japan’s prime minister.

Before he left Hawaii, Trump had his motorcade stop at the Trump International Hotel Waikiki because, as White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders put it, the president “wanted to say hello and thank you to the employees for all their hard work.” Trump didn’t stay at the hotel during his one night in Hawaii.


National
AP
Local voting districts seen as crucial to election security

CONYERS, Ga. — Last November, election officials in a small Rhode Island town were immediately suspicious when results showed 99 percent of voters had turned down a noncontroversial measure about septic systems.

It turned out that an oval on the electronic ballot was misaligned ever so slightly and had thrown off the tally. The measure actually had passed by a comfortable margin.

The scary part: The outcome might never have raised suspicion had the results not been so lopsided.

Amid evidence that Russian hackers may have tried to meddle with last year’s presidential election, the incident illustrates a central concern among voting experts — the huge security challenge posed by the nation’s 10,000 voting jurisdictions.

While the decentralized nature of U.S. elections is a buffer against large-scale interstate manipulation on a level that could sway a presidential race, it also presents a multitude of opportunities for someone bent on mischief.

With a major election year on the horizon, the Homeland Security Department has been working with states and counties to shore up their election systems against tampering.

States vary widely in what they are doing to tighten security. Colorado and Rhode Island have adopted more rigorous statistical methods for double-checking the votes, while others are making or weighing changes to their voting technology.

“Always, there’s been a hypothetical. But clearly, now it is a real threat,” said Noah Praetz, election director for Cook County, Illinois. “The fact that we now have to defend against nation-state actors — Russia, China, Iran. It’s a very different ballgame now.”

Last year, Homeland Security disclosed that 21 states’ election systems had been targeted by Russian hackers. There was no evidence they actually penetrated the systems. Experts likened the activity to a burglar jiggling a doorknob to see if it is locked.

In the U.S. — from presidential races down to school board contests — elections are run to a very large degree by local governments, usually counties. County election offices across the nation oversee about 109,000 polling places and more than 694,000 poll workers, and rely on a patchwork of voting technology, such as optical scanners and touchscreens.

Small counties are less likely than the larger and wealthier ones to have cybersecurity expertise and the latest technology.

“The proverb that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link is certainly applicable to our efforts to secure elections,” Brian Hancock, director of the testing and certification division for the U.S. Election Assistance Administration, said in a blog on his agency’s website.

After the “hanging chad” debacle in Florida threw the 2000 presidential election into confusion, Congress designated $3 billion to help states modernize their election systems.

But those machines are now more than 10 years old. A 2015 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found that more than 40 states were using machines that were no longer being manufactured, and some election officials had to go onto eBay to find replacement parts, including modems to connect to the Internet.

In September, Virginia banned touchscreen voting machines in next week’s closely watched gubernatorial election because of security concerns. Several counties had to scramble to buy replacements.

Georgia, one of five states where voting machines produce no paper trails, is testing out new ones during municipal elections in Conyers, an Atlanta suburb. Voters enter their choices electronically and are then given a paper copy. If the paper looks correct to them, they feed it into a machine that counts their vote.

“This is a wonderful step forward,” said James Cabe, a 37-year-old college instructor from Conyers. “I like looking at a piece of paper and verifying that it’s the vote I cast.”

Georgia officials have estimated it could cost over $100 million to adopt the machines statewide.

In January, Homeland Security designated the nation’s election systems “critical infrastructure,” on par with the electrical grid and water supply.

A 27-member council has been formed with representatives from federal, state and local governments. The group held its first meeting last month in Atlanta, and a key priority is establishing a process for sharing intelligence.

“It would take a substantial effort to impact our elections, and one that we think is very hard to do,” said Bob Kolasky, the acting deputy undersecretary at Homeland Security overseeing the program. “And we are going to make it harder to do.”

One step is to provide security clearance to a top election official in each state. So far, 23 states have signed up. The department also has been working with 30 states and 31 local governments to scan their networks for vulnerabilities and provide cybersecurity recommendations.

That’s welcome news in places like the Rhode Island town of North Kingstown, population 22,000.

As the polls closed there last fall, Town Clerk Jeannette Alyward checked the state’s election night website: Only five people had voted to create a $2 million loan program for septic systems.

Something had to be wrong. By the next day, state officials figured out the ballots weren’t being read properly by the machinery because of the bad oval. It was nothing intentional, but it was unsettling — and became more so amid continuing news about Russian hacking.

“I have a lot of confidence in our state system, but could it happen here?” Aylward asked. “Anything could happen.”