Lippert wins Dem line with thin margin

Timothy Lippert

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Timothy Lippert waves a flag at the 2021 Memorial Day parade. Lippert, a Democrat, is the winner of the 2021 Berne Democratic Primary for a vacant town board seat.

BERNE – The Albany County Board of Elections has verified the results of the Berne Democratic Primary, confirming Tim Lippert as the party nominee for an open town board seat, despite an unusual surge of absentee voter support for his opponent. 

Anita Clayton got nearly five times the absentee votes that Lippert got. Both are Democrats.

Clayton, currently Berne’s town clerk, was already nominated by the Conservative Party when votes were cast in the Democratic primary on June 22. She is expected to have GOP backing for the board post in November.

The race is to fill a vacated seat, currently held by an appointed Repubican, Leo Vane Jr.

Lippert ultimately received 199 votes, while Clayton received 184, a difference of 15. Early results, which included all in-person votes but not absentee ballots, showed Lippert with a 2-to-1 lead over Clayton, but Clayton then received the vast majority of absentee votes.

Albany County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Kathleen Donovan told The Enterprise this week that, after counting absentee ballots, the board added 18 votes to Lippert’s initial total of 181, and 94 to Clayton’s initial total of 90.

Last November, Matthew Clyne, then the county’s Democratic commissioner, since replaced by Donovan, told The Enterprise that paper ballots almost always reflect the counts in electronic voting.

“Paper ballots reflect the machine vote,” he said. “They break down in the same proportion.”

There may be a rare exception, he said, in a small town or village election where there has been a write-in campaign.

With paper ballots left to count, Clyne said, candidates often think, “We’re still in it. Anything goes.”

Actually, Clyne said, “We’ve never seen anything like that.”

It’s unclear why Clayton received so many more absentee votes than in-person votes, but Berne Democratic Party Chairman Kevin Crosier told The Enterprise that Berne Highway Superintendent and Albany County GOP Chairman Randy Bashwinger had dropped off near the number of ballots that Clayton received at the county board of elections.

Bashwinger works a second job at the board of elections.

When soliciting an absentee ballot, voters can designate a messenger to deliver the ballot on their behalf. 

When asked about why there were so many absentee ballots naming Clayton, Bashwinger told The Enterprise in a text that he was “not sure” and pointed to the preponderance of absentee ballots submitted in support of Democratic candidates nationwide during last November’s general election, when the ongoing coronavirus pandemic was a larger threat in the United States and reactions to it more politicized. Very broadly speaking, left-leaning voters were more likely than their right-wing counterparts to view the pandemic as a legitimate concern and take advantage of ensuing protective measures, such as automatic qualification for absentee voting.

Ultimately, the closeness of the Berne primary results triggered an automatic recount of the ballots, Donovan told The Enterprise, which was completed on June 28.

The Berne Democratic Committee and the Democratic slate each wrote letters to the Enterprise editor this week congratulating Lippert.

“We would like to thank the voters for endorsing Tim Lippert as their Democratic candidate in the June 22 primary … He listens to constituents, researches issues, and keeps the needs and desires of the community as the centerpiece of his efforts. His past and current experience working within government has laid a strong foundation for those efforts,” wrote the Democratic Committee.

In a short letter printed in the same edition, Clayton wrote, “First, I would like to thank all the residents who supported me in this primary election. I appreciate your kindness and support.

“I will forever be grateful to my mother for instilling in me the values and morals to always tell the truth, own your mistakes, stand up for yourself and others around you, and never compromise who you are, even under adversity.

“Lastly,” she said, “I would like to offer my congratulations to Mr. [Timothy] Lippert. He is a good soldier and he will serve his masters well.”

Clayton was elected as town clerk on the Democratic line, but has fallen out with her party, ostensibly because of the nature of her candidate interview with them earlier this year, which she perceived as hostile. She claims she was asked to denounce the Republican-backed administration running the town.

Democrats are the majority in Berne, with 809 enrolled voters. The three other parties have a combined total of only 667 enrolled voters — a 55-to-45 split. The Republican party has 495 voters, the Conservative Party has 115, and the Working Families Party has 57. 

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