By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County Democrats are charging that Republican challenges of certain absentee ballots have crossed the line from concern about voter fraud to outright intimidation.
“This fight is not about anything other than the effort of some, in one political party, to disenfranchise another’s right to vote,” County Democratic Party Chairman Martin Mannix said at a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Clinton County Government Center.
“The proof is who is challenged. Unilaterally, they are members of the opposition party.”
Mannix and fellow Democrats are upset that Republicans are challenging dozens of absentee ballots from the Nov. 5 election.
Republicans claim the ballots and the applications for them were inappropriately secured by members of the Working Families Party.
The Working Families Party endorsed most Democratic candidates in the election.
The majority of the ballots being challenged are in the South End of the City of Plattsburgh in Wards 1 and 2 and in Area 8 of the Clinton County Legislature.
City Police are investigating the issue based on a complaint from Republicans.
Mannix acknowledged the Republicans right to challenge ballots, but said they are doing so clearly on a political basis.
He noted that none of the 40 ballots delivered to the Board of Elections by Republican City Council candidate William Ferris were challenged.
“Look at the Town of Plattsburgh: 39 ballots have been challenged, and 31 of them are Democrats, four are Independence Party, two are blank, and one is Working Families Party,’ Mannix said.
“The basis of these challenges is that the ballots were brought into the Board of Elections by either a Working Families Party member or a Democrat.”
VOTER FELT BULLIED
Sydney Garrant, vice chairwoman of the county Democrats, read a letter from voter Kari Lampkins, who said she was harassed and bullied by Republican candidates questioning her ballot.
Mannix said that is not acceptable.
“Again, this is about suppressing the votes of those you believe may not have voted for your party’s candidates, intimidating future absentee-balloting and giving the Working Families Party a black eye,” Mannix said.
He urged Republicans to withdraw their challenges and allow all absentee ballots to be counted.
“We are here to make the point that we, the Democratic Party of Clinton County, will stand up for our voters,” Mannix said.
“We are here to defend your right to vote.”
Mannix was joined by Republican Gerard Renadette, who lost the Legislature Area 4 race to Democrat Colin Read.
“I believe these votes should be counted,” Renadette said.
In response to the Democrats’ news conference, Republicans countered that it is clear to them that some voters were duped when it came to partaking in the absentee-ballot process.
“It appears that some of those casting absentee ballots were coached and misled into misrepresenting their status on applications, which enabled them to obtain ballots for misstated reasons,” reads a statement from County Republican Chairman Donald Lee, City GOP Chairman Richard Cantwell and Town of Plattsburgh GOP Chairman James Carlin.
“We believe that in the overwhelming number of cases, these voters were totally unaware that their applications were marked to indicate that they would be out of the county on Election Day or that they had some sort of disability that prevented them from going to the polls. They are the ones who may have suffered the ultimate disenfranchisement.”
Incumbent Republican County Legislator Mark Dame, who filed the complaint with City Police, said there is little doubt in his mind that numerous voters were coerced in a planned effort.
“After speaking with all these voters, the pattern is clear that they had no idea what was going on and they were misled,” Dame said. “The real question is who are the cowards behind the curtains pulling the strings of these operatives.”
Police Chief Desmond Racicot said the investigation is continuing, but he could not say when it might be finished.
“We’ve got a lot of ground to cover,” the chief said.
Those challenging votes have three days to bring their claims to court. If not, the Board of Elections can open the challenged ballots.
Dame, who appears to have won re-election to his Area 8 seat regardless of the absentee outcome, said he will not bring his challenges to court and will allow them to be opened.
“I think the results of those will be very telling,” he said.
Any absentee ballots that were challenged on Monday, during the absentee count, can be opened today if there is no court challenge.
Those challenged on Tuesday can be opened next Monday.
Email Joe LoTemplio:firstname.lastname@example.org