Recanvass shows Hanley beat write-in candidate

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

A closer look: Postmarked on time? Signed? Party representatives examine ballots sent by mail in the the Knox contest to complete the town board term of the man on the left, Nicholas Viscio, chairman if the Knox Democratic Committee. Next to him, Justin Corcoran, an attorney for the Albany County Democratic Committee, and, next to him, Douglas Breakell, vice chairman of the Albany County Republican Committee, examine ballots Wednesday morning


ALBANY— A ballot recanvass effort at the Albany County Board of Elections Wednesday left  little doubt that Dan Hanley will emerge as the winner of a one-year term as a Knox Town Board member when results are made official and certified.

Unofficial results of the recanvass showed Hanley has enlarged his margin over write-in candidate Ken Saddlemire after validated absentee and affidavit ballots had been tallied and added to the vote totals.

Both candidates said they were proud of their campaigns. “I tried to run on a high road and never had anything bad to say about Ken,” said Hanley, reached by phone on Wednesday night. “That’s important, I think, given what the national political climate is like now.”

He also said he knows the town better now after door-to-door campaigning. “People were every welcoming,” he said. “I never felt I wasn’t part of the community.”

On Election Night, an unofficial count of machine-voting results at the town hall had shown  Saddlemire to be a mere 16 votes behind the Democratic candidate, Hanley: 582 votes for Hanley and 566 for Saddlemire.

The result was not only close but also an anomaly: Write-in candidacies rarely succeed, yet Saddelmire’s did well enough to require Wednesday’s public tabulation of outstanding votes.

Saddlemire, a dairy farmer and lifelong resident of Knox, was present at the recanvass and represented in the vote count process by Douglas Breakell, the vice chairman of the Albany County Republican Committee and chief of staff for Senator George Amedore .

Hanley, a special-education teacher in the Schalmont School District, could not be there and was represented by Justin Corcoran, an attorney for the Albany County Democratic Committee, and by Nicholas Viscio, the chairman of the Knox Democratic Committee.

Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis looked on from Saddlemire’s corner, while Dee Woessner, a member of the Knox Democratic Committee, observed the process from the Hanley end of the table.

Saddlemire, an enrolled Democrat, was nominated by the Knox Republican caucus in September but a procedural challenge by the Knox Democratic Committee in Albany County Supreme Court  succeeded in removing him from the Nov. 8 ballot.

Woessner filed the suit for the Democrats that knocked Saddlemire off the ballot.

Saddlemire had failed to secure the Democratic nomination — after his name was placed in contention at that party’s caucus by Lefkaditis.  The paper-ballot vote went to Hanley. Lefkaditis and the four other town board members — all five are Democrats — have been at odds since Lefkaditis became supervisor in January.

No sooner had Saddlemire learned of the unfavorable court decision then he decided to mount a write-in campaign, which he conducted door-to-door, with  a big educational element: teaching his supporters how to cast a correct write-in ballot on his behalf. He described  himself as an alternative to the “old guard.”

Both Hanley and Saddlemire were making their first run for public office. Both stressed their community involvement and love for the rural character of Knox.

Hanley will occupy a town board seat vacated by Eric Kuck who was appointed to the board to serve until the end of this year after the resignation of  Viscio, a long-time member.  Kuck threw his support behind Hanley after deciding not to run for another year on the board, the last year of Viscio’s unexpired term.  Hanley will now complete Viscio’s term and will have to run again in 2017 to win a full four-year term for himself.


The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Interested parties: Most interested by far is the man at the end of the table, Ken Saddlemire, waiting to see if absentee ballots might tilt the Nov. 8 race for a Knox Town Board seat in his favor. He ran as an independent write-in candidate but was represented by the GOP county vice chairman, Douglas Breakell, at Wednesday’s board of election recanvass. Democratic representatives Justin Corcoran and Nicholas Viscio are to Breakell’s right. That’s board of elections Republican Commissioner Rachel Bledi with her back to camera.


Write-in phenom

Board of Election Republican Commissioner Rachel Bledi  said, “I have never had any candidate get this many write-in votes since I’ve been here.”

Bledi and Democratic Commissioner Matthew Clyne oversaw the recanvass, which was a largely relaxed and friendly affair with only a few ballots disqualified for various reasons. But, after all the participants had left, the two commissioners had a disagreement.

The cause was a manual  audit of the Knox machine ballots initiated by Bledi in order to look for any write-in ballots that the voting machines may have failed to scan and tabulate. She contends that New York State Election Law requires that write-in ballots where the voter’s intention is clear should be valid and counted even, she maintains, if the appropriate circle on the ballot is not filled in.

Ballot voter instructions say the voter must fill the correct circle, in addition to writing the name of the voter’s choice. Bledi was willing to to count the ballots where just the name was written; Clyne said the circle must be filled, too.

The voting machines cannot scan ballots where the write-in circle is not filled in. Clyne later told The Enterprise that the manual audit produced “about 10” write-in ballots, for Saddlemire, on which the circle had been left unfilled and the ballot therefore unscanned.  “Not enough to affect the outcome,” he noted. Clyne said he was more concerned about the precedent.

Clyne said a manual audit may be manageable for a small town like Knox, but would be overwhelming in contests involving big populations. “The whole purpose of these voting machines is to quickly and reliably scan ballots...It’s the voter’s responsibility to correctly complete the ballot so it can be scanned.”

In an email she sent to The Enterprise later in the day, Bledi wrote this: “The desire to avoid having to do a manual recount is not a legitimate excuse for disenfranchising a voter, especially in a smaller town.  I stand by my position to do a manual recount in a write-in effort.”

“A melting pot”

“I’m proud of it,” said Saddlemire said of his write-in campaign. “It gave people an option.”

He declared the campaign “a good experience,” and said, “I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know.” He said it also confirmed his belief that Knox is a “melting pot, socially, economically, in every way.”

Asked if he would do it again, he said he would have to think about that.

Westerlo referendum stays negative

Almost 100 absentee ballots from the Nov. 8 Westerlo referendum that asked voters to approve borrowing $887,00o to preserve and modernize the town hall were also opened and counted Wednesday. They split almost evenly: 49 “yes” and 45  “no.”

The referendum had narrowly fallen short in the Nov. 8 machine vote count: 772 nay votes, 720 yay.

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