Schenectady County

Schenectady vote count highlights errors (with video)

The ongoing count of mail-in ballots in the Schenectady mayor’s race has become a lesson in how not

The ongoing count of mail-in ballots in the Schenectady mayor’s race has become a lesson in how not to fill out a ballot.

One woman asked for an absentee ballot because she would be gone from Oct. 1, 2011, to May 25, 2011.

“She’s said she won’t be out of the county on Election Day, so she’s not entitled to an absentee,” said attorney James Walsh, who is representing Alliance Party founder Roger Hull.

Acting Mayor and Democrat Gary McCarthy’s attorney, Kathleen O’Keefe, flipped through the application and stared at the dates in dismay.

“How does May come after October?” she said. “She meant 2012. Probably for school.”

Walsh objected anyway, and the ballot was set aside, uncounted.

There were dozens of examples of voter error on the second day of ballot counting. With the time needed to investigate each ballot, counting slowed to a crawl at times. At the end of the day, after counting ballots from districts that heavily supported Hull, McCarthy’s lead had shrunk to 58 votes. He was leading by 77 votes on Election Day.

There are 325 ballots left to examine, along with 105 ballots that have been inspected but not counted due to objections over errors and irregularities.

In two cases, the attorneys had to decide whether it was ever acceptable to allow someone to vote twice.

The attorneys and election commissioners all agreed to toss one affidavit, a paper ballot, which was filed by a voter after she voted at the machine on Election Day. She told poll workers that she had accidentally only voted on the referendum. She insisted on another chance to vote, although all ballots placed in the machine cannot be retrieved and a second ballot would constitute a second vote.

The poll workers reluctantly gave her an affidavit to appease her, Commissioner Art Brassard said. But both sides’ attorneys and both commissioners agreed not to count the second ballot because no one is allowed to vote twice.

“We have to say no,” O’Keefe said.

Errors and glitches

In a slightly more complicated situation, a disabled voter mistakenly put a blank ballot in the ballot-reader machine because she thought it was the machine that helps disabled voters mark their ballots. She then filed a second ballot by affidavit.

Hull’s attorney said the second ballot should count, especially since the workers confirmed that two blank ballots were filed in that district. But O’Keefe said there was no leeway in the law to let someone vote twice.

The affidavit was set aside, uncounted.

It wasn’t only voters who made mistakes. The Board of Elections misplaced one ballot in a scenario that may lead to a review of the board’s security camera footage.

It started when a soldier asked for and turned in a military ballot because he was ordered to Afghanistan. But then his orders changed, postponing his deployment, and he volunteered to work as a poll inspector. Believing his military ballot was now invalid because he was not leaving the country, he asked for a poll worker’s ballot. He filled that out and turned it in.

Accidentally, the Board of Elections filed it with the Glenville ballots. It was opened with the rest of the Glenville votes in the presence of several Board of Elections workers, but only one of the two election commissioners.

When they saw the ballot, they realized it was misfiled, so they put it back in the envelope and set it aside for the Schenectady count.

“I don’t like the chain of custody,” said attorney Bryon McKim, representing Hull.

The commissioners offered to show him the security video footage of the ballot opening to prove they didn’t replace the ballot with a different one. If the objection goes to court, McKim said they should play the video for the judge.

Commissioner Brian Quail asked whether McKim would object to the original military ballot, which was filed before the soldier learned he wasn’t immediately going to war.

McKim said that ballot shouldn’t count either. “I’m still going to keep the objection. I would say the first one would be invalidated by the mere issuance of the second one,” he said.

O’Keefe wasn’t happy. “I feel bad for that kid, I really do. Everything that could go wrong with that ballot, did, and it wasn’t his fault.”

In another case, a voter filled in the McCarthy oval on the ballot, then crossed it out and wrote “error.” The oval for Hull was also filled in. O’Keefe objected to that ballot because it was identifiable.

Likewise, Hull’s attorney objected to a ballot with a vote for McCarthy. There was a stray mark in the section for city council candidates, making it identifiable.

One voter went to all the trouble of mailing in a ballot that was entirely blank — a possible protest vote.

Another two ballots were for both McCarthy, the Democrat, and Alliance Party founder Hull. Those votes didn’t count for either candidate.

And then there were two voters who wrote in votes for Hull — rather than filling in either of the two ovals next to his name.

O’Keefe objected to both of those ballots.

“You can’t write in someone who is on the ballot,” she said. “I think it’s pretty clear in the statute.”

But you can write in someone else, and one voter did. The vote was for Schenectady County Legislator Karen Johnson, who was elected mayor in 1983.

Categories: Schenectady County

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