By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Republican candidates for City of Plattsburgh Common Council seats are concerned that there may be untoward actions involving absentee ballots.
Michael Drew, who is running as a Republican for the Ward 2 seat, and Dale Dowdle, the Republican contender for Ward 3, say they think many of the absentee-ballot applications issued so far this election season may have been falsely filled out.
“This could definitely impact the outcome of the elections,” Drew said.
Drew and Dowdle noted that the number of absentee-ballot applications is up more than 500 percent in some parts of the city over the 2010 election.
Getting more people to vote, whether it be in person or by absentee ballot, is fine, they say, but the rules must be followed.
“There are way more out there than all of 2010, and we still have two weeks to go,” Drew said.
According to figures from the Clinton County Board of Elections, in Ward 1, there have been 118 applications handed in so far, up from 30 (393 percent higher) in all of the 2010 election. Ward 2 has seen 36 applications, up from 7 (514 percent higher), and in Ward 3, there are 63, up from 12 (525 percent higher).
“When you see the amount of absentee applications going up this much, there has to be a red flag,” Drew said.
The applications have six boxes listing reasons voters can submit an absentee ballot:
▶ Being out of the county on Election Day.
▶ Temporary illness, permanent illness or physical disability.
▶ Duties related to primary care of one or more individuals who are ill or physically disabled.
▶ Being a patient or inmate in a Veterans Administration hospital or detention in jail/prison awaiting trial.
▶ Awaiting action by a grand jury or in prison for conviction of a crime or offense that was not a felony.
Drew and Dowdle said that on many of the applications, the voters checked off a box that indicates they will be out of the county on Election Day. Many of those are from students at SUNY Plattsburgh who live in the dormitories.
“As far as I know, school is in session on Election Day, so why wouldn’t they all be here?” Drew said.
Dowdle said 31 applications are from the Wilson Hall dormitory alone, and all of them checked the box indicating they would be out of the county on Election Day.
“I think it’s incredible that they would all be out of town that day,” Dowdle said.
The applications delivered to the students in Wilson Hall showed that they were carried by a student named Royston Peters.The Press-Republican sent a message to a Royston Peters on Facebook asking for comment, and the response was: “No comment.”
Dowdle’s opponent, Justin Meyer, said no one was delivering absentee ballot applications on his behalf, and he did not hand out any himself.
“I think absentee ballots are an effective way to allow people to vote who can’t get to the polls, but the rules and regulations have to be followed,” he said.
Numerous absentee applications given to voters in the South End of the city in Plattsburgh Housing Authority units, which house income-eligible residents.
According to Board of Elections records, many of those applications were delivered by Betty Lou Lajoy and George and Elizabeth Baker, who are all members of the Working Families Party.
Lajoy could not be reached for comment, and the Bakers did not return telephone messages from the Press-Republican.
The Working Families Party has endorsed most Democratic candidates in the county.
Clinton County Board of Elections Commissioners Susan Castine and Greg Campbell said that delivering absentee-ballot applications to voters is perfectly legal.
Before giving out an absentee-ballot application, the board must check to see if the voter in question is, in fact, registered to vote in Clinton County.
All the applications that have gone out so far this election season are for registered voters in the county, the commissioners said.
The potential infraction could occur if voters check the box saying they will not be in the county on Election Day but actually are, the commissioners said.
It would be up to the candidates to prove whether a person was actually in town that day.
This irks Mark Dame, the Republican candidate for the Area 8 seat on the Clinton County Legislature, which includes parts of Wards 1 and 2. Dame said that once the ballots are sent in, it is a lengthy and expensive proposition to have them challenged.
He believes there is a concerted effort by the Working Families and Democratic parties to take advantage of some voters and tilt the election.
“They’ve targeted income-eligible-housing voters and college students who may be confused and probably coerced them into signing these applications and maybe breaking the law,” Dame said.
“There will be legal action taken if these ballots are allowed to go through,” he said.
Republicans filed a complaint with Plattsburgh City Police. Lt. Patrick Rascoe said the department conducted a preliminary investigation but deferred the matter to the county and state Boards of Elections.
Rascoe said that if a voter did knowingly falsely fill out an absentee-ballot application, it is a felony.
Joe Gittens, the City of Plattsburgh Democratic Party chairman, said that as far as he knew the efforts to deliver absentee ballots was legitimate.
“I think we are giving them (Republicans) a run for their money, and they have to find something to gripe about,” he said.
As for the college students in Wilson Hall indicating that they will be out of town on Election Day, Gittens suggested that they might be leaving early for Thanksgiving break.
Election Day is Nov. 5, and Thanksgiving is Nov. 28.
Drew said he and others in his party will be watching the situation carefully and plan on mounting challenges to any absentee ballots they believe may be tainted.
“I would be very concerned with any candidate that condones this practice, takes part in it or attempts to minimize the severity of what is happening,” he said.
“I personally want to be elected based on my merits and integrity, not by stuffing ballot boxes.”
Drew’s opponent, Democrat Michael Kelly, said he knew nothing about any attempt to deliver absentee ballots. He said that as far as he knew, it was an effort to help people vote who could not make it to the polls.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with that,” he said.
“I don’t want anybody to break the rules, but the motives behind this sound good to me.”
Kelly also said it was “typical Republican strategy to repress the vote.”
Drew said party politics is not what the issue is about.
“It’s ludicrous for him to say that,” he said.
“He wants to be a lawmaker and he supports people not heeding the letter of the law? That’s hypocritical. If he doesn’t like the system, then work to change it, but don’t disregard the law.”
CAN VOTE AT POLLS
Campbell and Castine explained that even if voters fill out an absentee ballot, they can still show up at the polls to cast their vote, and their paper ballot will be vacated.
Drew said he would offer rides to the polls for anyone on Election Day regardless of what party they are in.
Dame said that all candidates should demand that people with absentee ballots show up at the polls if they are in town on Election Day.
“The candidates need to step forward and do the right thing,” he said.
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