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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 24, 2009

Voting night in Rensselaerville spurs investigation

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — A candidate’s handling of ballots on the evening of last week’s primaries is being investigated by the Albany County Board of Elections.

Witnesses say Highway Superintendent G. Jon Chase, an incumbent Democrat, walked into the Rensselaerville polling place — an hour after polls closed — carrying a bag of ballots from the Medusa district.

“I’m going to tell you this right now — that is not right,” said Republican Election Commissioner John Graziano on a candidate’s handling election materials. “No candidate should be responsible for ballots in an election he’s running in.”

Chase could not be reached for comment, but his son, Councilman Gary Chase, said that his father had mentioned the incident to him.

“He did say ‘I probably shouldn’t have took them up,’” said Gary Chase. “In years past, usually whoever’s around takes the ballot box up. A few years ago, I think one of the candidates took it up, and someone complained about it, but that was the size of it,” he concluded.

While some who were present at the firehouse Tuesday night say they were suspicious of G. Jon Chase’s handling the bag, the results of the opportunity to ballot were not in his favor.

Chase lost the Independence line to Republican challenger Gary Zeh, who received 12 write-in votes, according to unofficial results from the Albany County Board of Elections and Rensselaerville Town Hall, while Chase received 9. Zeh also received 70 votes and 2 write-in votes to run on the Republican line.

The polls closed at 9 p.m., and, at about 10 p.m., Chase arrived at the Rensselaerville firehouse. There, the four Rensselaerville voting inspectors, a deputy of the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, and a number of residents saw him hand Clerk Kathleen Hallenbeck a bag containing ballots from the Medusa voting district, according to Janet Nelson, a voting inspector in the Rensselaerville district. Vernon Husek, a Rensselaerville resident who has been a frequent critic of Chase, took pictures.

“He is a candidate in a hotly contested election, and no candidate should be delivering materials from one site to another all by himself,” said Nelson, who saw Chase deliver the bag.

Nelson went on, “We received no phone call from the Medusa district at all, and at 10, he just shows up with the materials, which were incomplete by the way. Kathy couldn’t tell us how many people voted, they didn’t have it filled in as how many people voted in the district. There were about 15 people there that witnessed it, and everybody was appalled. Usually, one of the inspectors brings the bag up from the district, but not one of the candidates from the ballot that people have been voting on all day.”

“He shouldn’t have touched them,” Hallenbeck agreed. “The inspectors should have brought them up themselves. Someone running for office shouldn’t be carrying them.”

The next day, Nelson sent a letter of complaint to the board of elections, stating that the Medusa voting district did not follow protocol by failing to call in its results to Hallenbeck at the Rensselaerville district, and that Chase hand-delivered the bag of election materials to Hallenbeck an hour after the polls closed. Nelson also said in her letter that, upon opening the bag, Hallenbeck was “unable to determine the number of voters in the Medusa district.”

Subsequent letters to the board of elections, describing the same scene, were written by Robert Bolte, a candidate for town board, and Husek.

According to John Conklin, spokesman for the Albany County Board of Elections, the circumstances described in these letters would be a violation of Election Law.

“There’s nothing that specifically prohibits a candidate from handling ballots, but it does speak to what people are allowed to handle ballots, and candidates are not on there,” Conklin said of Election Law. “It is specific that election materials are to be handled by board of election employees only.”

So, the primary and opportunity-to-ballot results from Rensselaerville are being looked at extra closely by the board of elections.

“The Albany County Board of Elections is investigating this to determine if there was any impact on the election, and to ensure that a future occurrence like this does not happen again,” said Conklin.

“If the board determines that the election process has been interfered with, or that what happened has had an impact on the election, or another candidate in the race feels they’ve been aggrieved, they could take it to court,” which, he said, would result in a re-vote.

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