Court upholds Sausville victory in Malta supervisor race
Appellate Division refuses to allow disputed ballots
Updated 10:59 p.m.
ALBANY Town Supervisor Paul J. Sausville has won re-election by a single vote, following an appeals court ruling Tuesday.
Two potentially decisive absentee votes for Democratic candidate Cynthia Young shouldn’t be counted because of markings on the ballot, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Albany ruled.
The unanimous decision means Sausville, a Republican, has been re-elected, 1,582 to 1,581. Had the votes counted, Young would have won in a major upset over an incumbent in a town that generally votes Republican.
“Of course I’m disappointed,” she said. “I still think with those two votes, it was clear, the intention of the voter. I think those two voters were disenfranchised.”
Sausville said he looked forward to governing for two more years.
“I got the good news, and I’m ready to move on to the important business of government,” he said.
The ruling by the four-judge panel came the morning after attorneys for Young and Sausville made oral arguments on whether the two additional votes for Young should be counted.
The decision upholds an earlier ruling by state Supreme Court Judge Robert J. Chauvin in Saratoga County. Young can now ask for a hearing before the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, but that court seldom agrees to hear cases decided unanimously by the midlevel Appellate Division. Young said it was unlikely she would appeal Tuesday’s ruling, but she wasn’t sure.
At issue was whether words written on the back of the ballots voided them under state Election Law.
“Where the challenged marks on a ballot constitute written words, deliberately placed on the ballot by the voter, the entire ballot is rendered void,” the judges wrote.
Both contested absentee ballots had the words “no vote” written on the back, clearly in reference to one of the propositions that appeared on the back of the Nov. 5 ballot. One ballot also has letters that may be initials.
The markings shouldn’t automatically invalidate the votes for Young, her attorney, Kathleen O’Keefe, argued to the judges.
“Voter intent is very clear,” O’Keefe told the judges Monday. “It is really just disenfranchising these voters.”
Sausville’s attorney, James E. Walsh of Schenectady, said election law is clear that any extraneous marks intentionally made by a voter invalidate the ballot.
“There’s a bright line the court can buy,” Walsh said. “You put marks on the ballot, that’s it.”
A quick ruling was expected, since the state court system closes next week and remains closed until January. The Malta supervisor’s race needed to be decided by Jan. 1.
Chauvin ruled Nov. 21 the two ballots shouldn’t be counted, leading to Young’s appeal.
Walsh said Chauvin’s decision was the right one, though it drew criticism because Chauvin is a Republican, and his decision favored the GOP candidate.
“He made a very well-reasoned decision, and he decided it on the law,” Walsh said.
Sausville, a four-term incumbent, is in line to chair the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors in 2014. He said he wants to move on to working on the issues facing the town and county.
“This has been a huge distraction for the last month or so,” he said.
He attributed the one-vote victory margin to divisiveness surrounding the election and said many people in Malta “aren’t particularly happy with the look and feel of the town right now.”
Sausville has argued for slowing the effort to develop a traditional downtown corridor along Route 9, while Young has supported downtown development.
Sausville said he is unlikely to run again in two years.
Sausville’s narrow win followed a victory over Councilman Peter Klotz in a Republican primary in September. Klotz remained on the Conservative ballot line in November and received 417 votes, even though he didn’t campaign.
“There has clearly been a message sent that Malta voters want to see change,” Young said. “The majority of voters didn’t vote for him.”
Young, who was making her sixth bid for town office, said she plans to remain active in the community, but doesn’t know if she will run for supervisor again.
Until the opening of the final absentee ballots Nov. 20, Young held a narrow lead over Sausville. She led by 13 votes on election night, but the absentee votes opened more than a week later trended to Sausville.