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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 1, 2011

Did Dems file illegal absentee ballots?
Tollner ahead in R’ville assessor race

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — Albany County’s Republican election commissioner is investigating a number of absentee ballots related to this year’s race for assessor in Rensselaerville, suspecting false voter registration.

Democrat Jeffry Pine, longtime assessor in Rensselaerville, ran for re-election against challenger Richard Tollner, a Republican. The unofficial results the day after the election showed Tollner edging out Pine by 43 votes, but Pine remained confident, and awaited the absentee ballot results.

The current tally puts Tollner ahead by 21 votes, though 19 votes for Pine are being challenged. Still, Tollner stands the victor, unless his votes are challenged by the Democrats.

Rachel Bledi, the new Republican commissioner at the Albany County Board of Elections, became suspicious when she realized that there were six voters’ names registered to the same address — 13 South Street in Medusa; after speaking with the home’s current owner, she discovered that some of these voters were former residents, but hadn’t lived there in years, Bledi said.

What’s more, all of the other voters registered to this South Street address now live in the same neighborhood in an adjacent county, said Bledi. These absentee ballots had been delivered to the board of elections by Joyce Chase, wife of Rensselaerville’s former highway superintendent, G. Jon Chase, a Democrat; she is also the mother of Gary Chase, a Democrat who was defeated in his bid for re-election to the town board.

“Joyce Chase brought in seven or eight ballots, and Jeffry Pine brought in eight,” Bledi said Monday. “I rejected one, because they weren’t registered to vote. [Others] were accepted, but they hadn’t received bipartisan signoff, so they violated in-house rules. I’m in the process of investigating all of these.”

Bledi said Tuesday that she had contacted a number of voters whose ballots were delivered by Joyce Chase.

“The question is, did these voters do this with the knowledge that they’re violating election law?” said Bledi. “I can’t imagine this was unclear when it’s the same person who authorized all their ballots. It’s not like they were isolated incidents. These people are neighbors, and the same person is designated on all their ballots to handle the absentees, and that’s Joyce Chase.”

Joyce Chase did not return a phone call from The Enterprise on Wednesday.

The Enterprise was unable to obtain these voters’ contact information Wednesday.

“Based on my phone conversations with them and family members, they physically live in Greene County,” said Bledi. “They live next to each other, and it’s a serious concern, because it’s false registration in a sense. New York State Election Law is very clear in regard to these issues. You have to reside in the district in order to be a qualified voter.”

She went on, “What’s really interesting is, in order for you to obtain an absentee ballot, there has to be specific reasons. Joyce Chase used an absentee ballot herself, and the reason she put down is that she’s the primary caretaker of an individual who is ill or physically disabled. If that’s your argument, then how do you have the time to go around and collect absentee ballot applications for all these other individuals?”

Bledi also specifically referred to two ballots delivered by Jeffry Pine: One, of a man who is registered to vote in Medusa, but whose residence is listed as being in Freehold; and another who, Bledi said, voted under his ex-wife’s address in Rensselaerville, but whose address is listed as being on Red Mill Road in Greenville.

Neither man could be reached Wednesday for comment.

Pine said Wednesday that the first voter, recently divorced, had re-located to Rensselaerville; and the second has always owned property in Rensselaerville, and plans to move back permanently.

“These people are registered to vote in Rensselaerville,” Pine said Tuesday, “and, if they had actually gone in to vote, it wouldn’t have been a problem.”

Bledi quoted from case law of Thompson v. Karben: “The crucial factor in determining if an individual is qualified to register and vote from a particular residence is whether he or she has manifested an intent to adopt that residence as a permanent and principal home, coupled by his or her physical presence there, without any aura of sham,” she read.

False registration, Bledi went on, is a felony; she plans to present this information to the Albany County District Attorney’s office, she said.

“There’s a message to be sent here regardless of who wins: Some of this behavior is just unacceptable,” Bledi concluded. “Was it simply not understanding the law, or was their intent to steal an election? These are things that have to be investigated by the district attorney.”

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