Knox cliffhanger awaits absentee-ballot count

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Taking in the tally: Dan Hanley, right, listens as results are read Tuesday night at the Knox Town Hall. Hanley, a teacher, garnered 582 votes on the Democratic line while Ken Saddlemire got 566 votes as a write-in candidate — according to unofficial results. Dee Woessner, at left, tallies votes; Woessner filed a suit for the Democrats that struck Saddlemire from the Republican ballot. Alexander Gordon, former long-time county legislator, nominated Hanley for the Democratic line.

KNOX — Wait for it. Election night suspense here won’t be resolved until sometime next week.

The winner of  a town board seat remained yet to be decided after all  the machine-cast votes were tallied and announced late Tuesday at Town Hall. A small crowd of interested observers that included the Town Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis,  Deputy Supervisor Amy Pokorny, Councilman Earl Barcomb,  and both candidates looked on.

But no triumphant moment occurred because the final result now depends on absentee ballots that have yet to be counted.

The near-dead-heat between Dan Hanley who had the backing of the local Democratic Party and Ken Saddlemire who ran a vigorous write-in campaign, independent of any party organization, is unusual. Write-in candidates rarely do so well.

The final machine-vote tally, as calculated by town clerk Tara Murphy late Tuesday evening, showed Hanley with only 16 more voters than  Saddlemire: 582 votes for Hanley and  566 for Saddlemire. Murphy said that voting in the presidential election had been unusually heavy all day. “There were times when we had lines going out the door, “  she said.

Knox, a town with a population of 2,729, had over 1,930 registered voters as of election day.

Rachel Bledi, the Republican commissioner at the Albany County Board of Elections, said that the county-wide turnout was “unprecedented,” the biggest she has seen in her years at the board.

Poll workers counted  566 entries for Saddlemire.

Bledi told The Enterprise early Wednesday that  109 ballots absentee ballots had been sent to Knox and that so far 81 had been received back. More may yet come in, she said. Absentee ballots must be postmarked no later than Nov. 7.

She said the exceptionally high number of Knox write-in ballots exceeded the 506 received for a county-wide contest for Albany County County State Supreme Court judge. Saddlemire, a Knox native and dairy farmer, decided to mount a write-in campaign after the Knox Democratic Party successfully kicked him off the ballot by claiming in State Supreme Court that the Republican Party had failed to file their nomination of him in a timely manner.  Saddlemire also  sought the Democratic endorsement — he is a registered Democrat—  but was outvoted by Hanley supporters in that party’s caucus.


The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Waiting: Ken Saddlemire awaits election results standing in the foyer to Town Hall.


Saddlemire was nominated at the Democratic caucus by Lefkaditis, who has been at odds with the other four board members — all Democrats like himself. Hanley was nominated by Alexander Gordon, a former county legislator and Knox board member.

Both Saddlemire and Hanley, who is a teacher at Schalmont High School, are running for public office for the first time. Both conducted a door-to-door campaign. Both placed signs around town, but Hanley’s were printed and Saddlemire’s signs were homemade by him and his supporters. Both candidates had many supporters write letters to the the Enterprise editor. Saddlemire also placed an ad in The Enterprise showing a sample Knox Nov. 6 ballot and instructing voters how to correctly write in his name for town council member.

The study of ballots

Asked what percentage of write-in ballots are typically accepted as properly cast, Bledi said she wasn’t sure, but estimated it could be as high as 90 percent. “As long as the name is written  at the correct place on the ballot, it’s probably not going to be rejected. “ She said that misspellings (Saddlemire is spelled more than one way in the Hilltowns) or partial names are not enough to disqualify a ballot.

“For example, if a person writes Ken only,” she said, “there can be no doubt of the voter’s intention.” But she also noted such a ballot could be challenged by the other side.

Bledi will soon do a preliminary review of the Knox write-in ballots, digitally uploaded, to see how many might be disqualified. That assessment, she said, will be shared with The Enterprise.

But a final determination of how many of those ballots will ultimately be accepted must await a formal review by both her and her Democratic counterpart, together with  the two candidates or their representatives.  She says that review should take place on Nov. 16 and is open to the public. Absentee ballots will also be opened and reviewed at the same time — they can be disqualified on several grounds, including the voter’s failure to sign the outside envelope or “extraneous markings on the ballot itself.”

A third category, affidavit ballots —  ballots submitted by registered voters who come to the poll only to find they are on a list of “inactive voters” because they have failed to vote in two successive presidential elections or because board of elections mail to them has been returned as undeliverable  — will also be opened and reviewed.

The ultimate winner of the hard-fought contest will occupy a seat occupied since Jan. 1 by Councilman Eric Kuch who was appointed after long-time councilman Nicholas Viscio resigned from the board last year. Kuch had originally intended to run in the Nov. 8 election to complete the final year of Viscio’s unexpired term. But he decided against it for family reasons, sometime after his name had already been printed on the ballot as the candidate of Unify Knox, a party he had formed and registered in order, he said, to reduce partisanship in Knox politics. Although he had withdrawn from the contest and thrown his support to Hanley, he received 74 votes on Tuesday.

Asked if he would be attending next week’s board of elections review of the deciding ballots, Saddlemire said he wasn’t sure. “The girls like to be milked at certain times and they don’t like me being late.”

Hanley was asked how he felt about the still undecided contest. “There are a lot of unknowns,” he said, adding that he, too, didn’t know if he would attend the ballot review. “I have classes to teach and a mortgage to pay.”

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