An independent mayoral candidate says he sees racism and an effort to silence outside voices behind a move by city Democrats to challenge his nominating petitions and potentially remove him from November’s ballot.
But party officials say the challenge is simply part of the process to ensure compliance with state election law.
Ethan Scott Barnett, a 26-year-old graduate student and civil rights historian gathered over 750 signatures on his petition to the place the newly minted Kingston People’s Party on the ballot in November. Barnett has touted himself as a more authentically progressive alternative to incumbent Democrat Steve Noble, and said if elected he would mobilize the city’s marginalized communities to enact changes to help working families.
On May 31, former Kingston Democratic Committee chairman Joe Donaldson submitted a “general objection” to Barnett’s petition. The same day, Ward 9 candidate and Democrat Michelle Hirsch submitted an objection to petitions filed by Patrina Torres who has mounted an independent run for the council seat.
Once general objections are filed, petitioners have until Friday, June 7 to file more specific objections to individual signatures. A court will rule on the objections and discard signatures that are found out of compliance with election law. If enough signatures are discarded to place the candidate below the threshold for inclusion on the ballot, the entire petition can be thrown out and they will be denied a party line in November. Signatures can be stricken if the signer is not eligible to vote in the election or has signed another nominating petition in the current election cycle. Signatures can also be tossed out if they have the wrong date, if the candidate was not present at signing or if they were gathered under false pretenses. Kingston Democratic Committee Co-Chair Matt Dunn called the objection a routine matter.
“We go through a laborious process to ensure that the petitions comply with the law,” wrote Dunn in a prepared statement on Wednesday. “If they don’t meet the minimum requirements, then we may further challenge the petitions. Otherwise, we look forward to the general election in November.”
Barnett, meanwhile, characterized the petition challenge as an attempt by a “racist, unapologetic machine” to maintain its dominance in city government. In a video posted to social media, Barnett said Dunn and other committee members had been going door to door questioning people who signed his petitions about whether their signatures were valid, dated correctly and whether Barnett was present when they were signed. Barnett said the effort was especially disheartening because he had focused his petition campaign on marginalized communities that are wary of the political process to begin with.
“I’m telling people, ‘I’m trying to make the system work for you’ and everyone is trying to stop me, they’re saying, ‘No, you can’t do that,’” said Barnett. “This is exactly why I’m fighting.”
In his statement, Dunn scoffed at the idea that the petition process was racist or intended to keep some groups out of the political process.
“Our candidates range in age, race, gender identity, education, sexual orientation and work experience,” Dunn wrote. “Regardless of their differences, they are smart, they work hard and they are dedicated to making Kingston a better place for all of us.”