Press-Republican

September 11, 2013

Malone party-petition changes probed

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — A special prosecutor and the State Board of Elections are investigating possible petition tampering in Franklin County.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie was named special prosecutor in the case involving alleged changes to Democratic Party petitions filed with the County Board of Elections.

The petitions are allegedly associated with the party caucus and County Democratic Committee nominations held in the Town of Malone on July 22.

PETITION PROCESS

On that date, petitions for those wishing to be named to the party’s committee were circulated.

The Town of Malone has 10 districts, and two people are selected from each to serve not only on the party’s town committee but the County Democratic Committee.

Those seeking a committee seat must file petitions and obtain signatures from at least 5 percent of the eligible party voters in their own election district.

Signatures obtained from voters living in a different election district do not count toward that 5 percent threshold.

CIRCULATOR VERIFIES

The petitions are filed with the County Board of Elections. It is up to the person who circulates the petition, not the election commissioners, to verify that the signatures are actually from eligible voters in his or her election district.

Once filed with the county, there is a three-day window for anyone to file an objection to a petition. Any objector then has six more days to specify what signatures may be invalid.

After that, election commissioners would hold a hearing to weigh the complaint and make their ruling. If a signature is deemed invalid, it is removed from the nominating petition.

Anyone can request a copy of a nominating petition once it is filed with the Board of Elections and becomes public record.

OBJECTION FILED LATE

An unnamed person made such a request for nominating petitions that Town Councilor Mary Scharf carried for other committee candidates, but the request came after the three-day objection period expired. One petition sought signatures for committee nominations for Hugh Hill and Jean Pond and the other for Donald Merrick and Deborah Merrick.

That person brought concerns to District Attorney Derek Champagne.

Champagne said that as soon as the allegation was brought to his attention, he filed a request with County Court Judge Robert G. Main Jr. for a special prosecutor to be named, since his office would have a conflict of interest in handling any investigation involving another county department.

During a conference call, County Republican Party Election Commissioner Veronica King and County Democratic Party Commissioner Kelly Cox told the Press-Republican that they do not know anything about a special prosecutor being named or that the State Board of Elections is conducting an investigation.

“We have no idea what you’re talking about,” Cox said. “No objections have been filed in this office.”

PETITION CHANGES

Wylie said a name was reportedly scratched off a petition and another substituted for it, and “the whole issue is whether the petition was circulated before the name was crossed out or crossed out afterward.”

“The petitions allegedly have changes on them,” he said.

“I referred it to the State Police for investigation, and they have requested the State Board of Elections conduct an investigation into the matter.

“The state will turn the information over to my office, and I will make sure things are verified” before the case continues, he said.

NOT AWARE

Scharf, a retired teacher, said she was not aware that any investigations were underway.

“I don’t know anything about it,” she said.

But she said she does recall a voter from North Bangor signing a petition of support for her that was crossed off because the person was ineligible to vote. She said two former students gave support but now live in Canton and were also not eligible.

“Other than that, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Scharf said.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com