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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, October 11, 2007

Officials say
‘Political operatives’ can fill out ballots

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Following the Conservative Party primary, some of the town’s Conservatives criticized the absentee ballot process, which election officials said this week is legal.

The results for the Sept. 18 Conservative Party primary show Myra Dorman and Allyn Wright, Republican candidates for the town board, each received nine Conservative votes, and Marie Dermody and Gary Chase, the Democratic candidates, each received 12 votes.

When applying for an absentee ballot, voters can choose to pick up an absentee ballot at the county board of elections, have the ballot sent to them, or have someone they designate as a courier deliver the ballot to them.

Some of the absentee ballots from the Conservative Party primary were challenged, but none went to court, according to Matthew Clyne, the Albany County Board of Elections Democratic commissioner.

In the assessor’s race, Conservative candidate Steven Wood received eight votes, and Democratic incumbent Jeff Pine received 12 votes.

Pine, making his third run for the office, said it is not uncommon for Democrats to receive the Conservative endorsement. He has received the Conservative endorsement from the county, and it is rare, he said, for a Democrat not to receive the Conservative endorsement. While Democrats may not be conservative on social issues, they are fiscally conservative, he said.

Wood and Bob Bolte, who call themselves "true Conservatives," were present at the county board of elections when votes were tallied the week of the primary and when absentee ballots were opened one week later.

"Incidentally, at the board of elections ballot-opening, I could clearly see that most of the ballots were filled out by the same person," wrote Wood in a letter to the Enterprise editor.

Wood also complained about absentee ballots being held at the board of elections office for Democrats — all members of the Chase family and Democratic Councilwoman Sherri Pine. Wood also questioned the reasons Rensselaerville Conservatives who voted by absentee ballot gave for needing an absentee ballot.

Whether ballots are filled out by the same person is irrelevant, said Clyne, adding that the commissioners determine whether they are filled out correctly, have no extraneous markings, and whether the vote is cast in the appropriate column.

Clyne said absentee applications and ballots are often filled out by "political operatives" to expedite the process.

Four out of five times, he said, they are filled out by political operatives "just to get things going," and then they are signed by the voter.

Like any legal form, the voter has to be cognizant, and the form has to be filled out with his or her consent, he said.

Clyne called the absentee ballot "a strange form," indicating voters may need help filling it out.

"There’s nothing sinister about it," said Clyne of one person filling out multiple ballots for voters. "Most political operatives do it. I’ve done it many times myself."

"A voter can have assistance," said Bob Brehm, spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections. When voting by absentee ballot, a person other than the voter cannot fill out an absentee form for another person without that person’s knowledge and consent, said Brehm. The voter must sign the form unless he or she is not able to because of an illness or disability.

"Handwriting analysis tends to be judicial," said Brehm, adding that the county board of elections can document the objections to the votes. Brehm called a county’s board of elections "an administrative body."

When challenging a ballot, the person objecting must present evidence and facts to a judge, Brehm said.

Asked if a suspicious or invalid ballot could go unnoticed if a person does not object to the vote, Brehm said, "It doesn’t go unnoticed." Brehm was once a local commissioner.

In Wood’s letter to the Enterprise editor, Wood says, "Dead people voting in Rensselaerville was the norm, people voting from all over the world and some didn’t even know they voted absentee."

According to Brehm, in cases of deceased people, the State Health Department shares information with the State Board of Elections and the state board then shares that information with the county boards.

State-wide, on a monthly basis, the State Board of Elections sends a hard copy and a disc in an envelope to the county boards, Brehm said.

Because of legislation in 1993 — the National Voter Registration Act (The Motor Voter Act) — it is the voter’s responsibility to notify the county board of elections when they move within the county, he said. If a person moves to a different county, and does not notify the board of an address change, a different procedure is followed.

Currently, the state board of elections is working to add a feature to its website for voters to look up their name to make sure their information correct, Brehm said.

The deadline for new voters to register for the November election is tomorrow (Friday).

The psychology of wizardry
Professor Jennings uses Harry Potter
novels to explore "attachment, friendship, and intimacy"

By Jo E. Prout

Russell Sage College professor and Knox resident Sybillyn Jennings knows how to reach her students. She helps them explore the relationships among characters her students have grown up with in the Harry Potter novel series.

"I’m a developmental psychologist," Jennings said. "When I read the Harry Potter books"I was simply entranced with the way that [J.K.] Rowling was showing Harry and Hermione and Ron not only growing up, but interacting with adults."

Jennings taught the class for the first time last spring, and the college is already touting it for next spring. While not all the faculty likes the Harry Potter series, "Overall, they were pleased. Overall, it was positive," Jennings said. "It was a very fun experience."

Three years ago, she said, she heard students discussing the books, and she thought a class on the series would be a good way to examine "attachment, friendship, and intimacy."

Jennings uses the series "as a window" to look more deeply into the major themes of attachment between an infant and a parenting person, moral reasoning, friendship and enemies and how they contribute to human development, she said.

The Rowling series allowed Jennings and her students to delve into issues in a non-threatening way with familiar texts "so they could get a hold of it," she said.

Jennings’s class is not Baby Psych 101; the class is offered through the honors program and the psychology department at RSC. The issues they examine go "a little deeper" than would be possible in an introductory course, Jennings said. She had 18 students in the honors seminar with backgrounds in psychology and enough credits under their belts to be proficient writers.

"I want them to recognize the skill of this author, Rowling — a genius, what she’s been able to sustain across seven books," Jennings said.

Her class will help students "admire the expressional form"to address themes of relations," she said. The characters grapple with friends and enemies, and Jennings’s students gain a much deeper appreciation of the issues of attachment and loss, friendship, and identity, she said.

The seminar also focuses on the notion of discrimination as seen in the Rowling books. Conflict between "mud bloods" and "purebreds" pervades the series.

Discrimination "is an important issue for people to think about, how we isolate ourselves from others," Jennings said.

Student reaction to the class was "amazing," she said.

"I had not realized the significance of these books in their lives and in their development," Jennings said. Speaking of the first six books, because the final book had not yet been published when the first class was taught, she said, "We did go through every book and additional readings. The way they connected the different characters was amazing to me. They said, ‘These books are always going to be in my life.’ "

Rather than the two main characters, Harry and Hermione, Jennings found that her students identified with outcasts Neville Longbottom, Professor Snape, and the third main character Ron, who is always a second to Harry. Students even connected with the relationship between Harry and his step-father, Jennings said.

Rowling created "all sorts of hooks students could grab onto with their very own interests," Jennings said. Her students appreciated the way each of these characters developed through the series, and the continuing character interactions raised more questions among her students, said Jennings.

"It was striking to me the breadth of their interests" as the characters of different ages interacted in the books, she said.

"I think it does reflect a kind of maturity on their part. Allowing them to focus on these fictional characters made it easier to recognize the usefulness of experience"to own the feelings they have," Jennings said.

"The role of magic in all this"I don’t think the magic was the draw"but it really had to do with the stories and the sense of loss that Harry experienced and Neville experienced, and jealousy. It gets played out in a way the [students] can get their heads around it," she said.

Jennings’s current research with Dr. Julie McIntyre focuses on women’s interest in electronic leisure and what is physically — or not physically — appealing about these games. Jennings is also trying to understand what brings girls to have an interest in mathematics and science, she said.

When the spring semester begins, Jennings will incorporate Rowling’s recently-released final book in the Harry Potter series into the course.

"I’m certainly looking forward to this next iteration of the class," she said. "Rowling’s ability to address death and what death means"It’s just amazing, and especially pertinent in the current world where people are so divided by religious belief. It didn’t bother me that this was fiction. Psychology, as a field, more and more is coming to use narrative, the telling of a life story, as" a method for trying to understand how people make meaning in their lives." The Rowling series follows Harry Potter through seven years of trying to find meaning in his life, she said.

Jennings said that, perhaps, Rowling sees herself as a Charles Dickens. There is "a cycle of kinds of books that touch us and touch generations," said Jennings. "This is a generation that is touched by Harry Potter."

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