November 16, 2012

Ballots impounded in judicial race


---- — MALONE — A judicial candidate who claims fair access was denied when results were counted election night obtained a court order to have ballots impounded in 11 counties.

Franklin, Essex and Clinton counties are included in the order from Montgomery County Supreme Court Judge Vincent Reilly to cease all activities concerning the election for State Supreme Court justice in the Fourth Judicial District.

That district also includes Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Schenectady, St. Lawrence, Warren and Washington counties.

Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Joseph Sise, Schenectady Family Court Judge Christine Clark and Rotterdam attorney Thomas Buchanan were elected to the bench on Nov. 6.

Acting Montgomery County Supreme Court Judge Felix Catena is leading Franklin County Family Court Magistrate John Ellis by 61 votes for the last of four seats on the panel.

Catena has brought the legal challenge, saying his representatives were excluded from witnessing re-canvass results within the judicial district, said Franklin County Attorney Jonathan Miller.


Thousands of absentee ballots were returned in the respective counties, but not all have been opened and counted as election commissioners conduct their followup canvass of voting machines, which enables them to certify the results.

But the cease order from Reilly, which was received by the Franklin County Board of Elections via fax at 12 a.m. Thursday, states that all boards of election must secure “all Election Day ballots and election materials” in a bipartisan manner and appear in Schenectady County Court at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Franklin County legislators were upset, at first, about the news, thinking they had to send three people, as well as the county’s collection of

voting machines, to Montgomery County, south of Albany.

But clarification from Election Commissioners Veronica King (Republican) and Kelly Cox (Democrat) determined that the ballots are all that are needed.

The commissioners said they complied with the court order and secured the ballots with a two-lock system.

One has the key to a padlock on the ballots, and the other holds the key to the room where they are being held, so both commissioners must be present for the ballots to be accessed.


Cox said it’s unusual for a challenge to be made more than a week after

the election.

King said 1,312 absentee ballots were returned, and they have already been counted for 13 of the county’s 19 towns.

But that work cannot continue until the court challenge is settled.

She said about 250 affidavit ballots were collected at polling sites from potential voters whose names were not on the official election roll. The people were allowed to cast their vote, but those numbers are not counted with the rest unless their voting status is verified.

Miller said he spoke with the attorney who filed the petition and said the order came about because “there was concern that representatives of his client were not allowed full access to the ballot process in another county.”

He said the order is blanket coverage to shut down election work in the entire judicial district.

Clinton County had already planned to count absentee ballots on Tuesday, Nov. 20, so the order has not been a problem there as yet.

In Essex County, there are no close local races that will hang fire because the impound order suspends the counting of absentee votes.

“The order came as we were about a quarter way through our (absentee) count,” said Robert Pell-deChame, Democrat Board of Election commissioner there.

Election results have to be certified by Nov. 30, he said, “so it does cause us some concern.”

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