Press-Republican

March 20, 2013

Champlain Village dissolution vote fails

Tally was 199-59, but some question legality of ballots

By SUZANNE MOORE News Editor and FELICIA KRIEG, Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — CHAMPLAIN — Dissolution is off the table for the Village of Champlain.

Voters turned out in high numbers to shoot down a proposition put forth through the permissive referendum process. 

With a total 241 villagers stepping into the voting booth at the Village Office on Tuesday and another 18 weighing in by absentee ballot, the tally was 199-59.

“The village people looked at the services, they looked at the taxes, they came to the public hearings, they looked at the whole thing,” said Mayor Greg Martin, who knocked on doors campaigning to keep the village intact as much as to retain his post.

“That’s one of the main reasons I ran again,” he said.

Voters gave him another term, with 214 votes; re-elected Trustee Kim Trombley, with 189; and newcomer Janet McFetridge joins the board with a tally of 191. 

She will fill the seat now held by Tom Gurzenda, who did not seek re-election. None were contested races.

Wrongly printed ballots, however, have some questioning the process, though.

“You are holding an illegal election,” resident Kevin Triller told officials at the Village Office on Monday afternoon.

“We are not,” came Deputy Clerk Donna Barcomb’s firm reply.

Triller headed the effort to dissolve village government; he circulated the petition that prompted the public vote. 

 ‘INTEGRITY COMPROMISES’

Barcomb said a call from a voter alerted the Village Office that the ballot number appeared in the wrong place on the paper each person was given to mark his or her choices.

“It was a mistake on the printer’s part,” she said on Tuesday afternoon. “Nothing was done maliciously.”

The number should have been on the stub that is torn off the ballot before it is submitted.

The concern, Triller said, is that the ballot numbers can be matched to those in the ledgers voters sign before stepping into the ballot box.

“They’re compromising the integrity of the secret ballot system,” he said Tuesday evening, frustrated that no legal opinion could immediately be found on the issue.

The Village of Champlain’s attorney was away so couldn’t be reached; Clinton County Board of Elections Commissioner Susan Castine told the Press-Republican she could not say whether the ballots are illegal, as she cannot quote election law.

The County Board does not oversee village elections.

“They said that this is our election,” said Champlain Mayor Greg Martin, “which I think is fine.”

‘NEVER COMPARED’

He harbored no fears that the confidentiality of voters could be breached.

“I have extreme faith in our election officials,” he said before the polls closed. “The ballots are locked in the box. We make no comparisons.

“At no time are those signature cards and the ballots ever compared.”

Before voting, villagers signed the yellow cards in the ledgers in the charge of election inspectors Marie Dupee and Claire Clark. Before handing the voters their ballots, they recorded the ballot number on the back of the card. 

The voters stepped behind a blue curtain, marked the ballot then put it in a locked box.

The ballots, the mayor said, were not touched again until the polls closed.

When that happened, he said, “all of the signature cards were locked up in the safe.” 

Dupee and Clark, Martin said, “did a wonderful job under some extreme circumstances.”

Barcomb had called New York State Conference of Mayors Counsel Jane Tsamardinos, who told her to continue using the ballots.

Should anyone put in a Freedom of Information request for them following the election, Barcomb said she was told, the ballot numbers could be blacked out to maintain the secrecy of the vote.

“I feel the election was legitimate,” the mayor said.

HEAVY TURNOUT

Voters turned out in force.

“It’s been swamped,” Barcomb had said at about 12:45. “There’s been a steady line since we opened at noon.”

About 50 voters had taken their turns in the booth at that point, with the option of voting “yes” or “no” on dissolving their government.

That’s as many as might turn out altogether to vote at uncontested elections, Barcomb noted.

As of about 6 p.m., 222 voters had cast their ballots.

Barcomb had thought the winter storm moving through the region might have kept voters at home, but so far, she said, it didn’t seem that way.

“At least the roads aren’t too bad,” she said.

 ACCEPTS LOSS

Triller bowed to the majority.

“Roughly, a third (of votes) is what we got,” he said. “Almost consistent with the (number of) people who signed the petition.”

The issue with the ballots, however, he said, “is still a bone of contention. We do not have a legal decision on whether the proceeding was proper or not.”

But while he wants the village to make sure such a lapse doesn’t happen again, he didn’t see the point of having the vote declared void and holding another one.

“Based on the number of votes, I think it would be too hard an imposition on the people and the board itself,” he said. “The count was so far apart — there’s no argument.”

On the bright side, Triller said, “I got two write-ins on the ballot for mayor.”

Dissolution can’t come up again for four years.

The mayor wasn’t thinking that far ahead, though.

The village’s attorney is due back on April 4, he said, and the board would consult with him over the ballot issue.

“And he will have to certify the election.”

Email Suzanne Moore:smoore@pressrepublican.com