Berne GOP files against board of elections to keep two ballots uncounted

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Quick conversation: Berne Republican Chairman Randy Bashwinger, left, discusses with Thomas Spargo — a former New York State Supreme Court Justice who was convicted of extortion and bribery — the absentee ballot canvass on Nov. 15 at the Albany County Board of Elections building in Albany. Bashwinger shortly after requested two ballots be left uncounted because they had been brought in by the town’s Democratic Party chairman who had surpassed the limit of absentee ballots he could collect.

BERNE — A court decision on Monday will determine whether Berne’s town board will have a Republican-backed majority after more than 30 years of Democratic dominance.

Frank Brady, a Democrat running on the Republican line for town council, has served a petition under Article 16 of the New York State Board of Election Law, which allows for judicial review of the canvassing of ballots, said Matthew Clyne, the Democratic Commissioner of the Albany County Board of Elections.

The petition was filed on Monday, Nov. 20, within the three-business-day time frame from the absentee ballot canvassing on Nov. 15.

A hearing will be held at 10 a.m. on Nov. 27 at Albany County Supreme Court, with Judge L. Michael Mackey, who signed the court order, presiding. This will determine whether two absentee ballots should be counted or not. Berne’s Democratic Party chairman and town tax collector, Gerald O’Malley, had brought in 10 ballots for those who could or would not be able to vote on Election Day; Albany County allows only up to eight ballots to be collected by a single designated person.

The petition was filed against the Albany County Board of Elections and the other town board candidates: Joel Willsey and James Cooke, both Democrats running on the Democratic line, and Dennis Palow, a Republican and Brady’s running mate. Clyne said the suit filed was directed at Willsey, who received one less vote than Brady for town board, leaving Brady and Palow the top vote-getters.

“It is believed that those two votes would be for me,” said Willsey in an email to The Enterprise last week.

“I think it is purely a legal question,” said Clyne, who said there are little to no facts that are being debated; instead, the case will depend on the papers submitted from either side and the legal precedent of other cases. He said court cases determining election outcomes are fairly common.

“We get three or four of them each election,” he said.

Clyne said that similar issues to this one have been raised before and, though he noted this was his opinion, he expected the decision would favor the voters.

“I don’t believe that they’re going to disenfranchise voters for a technicality,” he said.

The Republican Commissioner, Rachel Bledi, said that she did not believe the two extra ballots would remain uncounted based on a technicality, but on a rule used to prevent ballot fraud.

“I think [the Berne GOP] raised some valid concerns here,” she said.

She said that O’Malley has been involved in elections for many years, and should have known about the eight-ballot cap. The absentee ballots are tracked in a log book, and Bledi said that O’Malley took advantage of a Board of Election employee overlooking that he had submitted too many.

Bledi said that the cap is based on a federal judicial ruling following an absentee ballot fraud case with the Albany Housing Authority. Since the ruling applies only to Albany County, she described it as a unique case.

“I see this as a ruling that was brought in to prevent absentee ballot fraud,” she said.

 

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