ALBANY — The candidates in the 111th Assembly District are still wrangling over the Conservative Party primary, two weeks after it was held.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, and challenger Paul DeLorenzo filed state Supreme Court petitions Thursday in Albany County and Montgomery County, respectively.
Santabarbara’s attorney wants a court order that the absentee and affidavit ballots submitted in the June 23 election to remain sealed until a court can rule on whether they should be opened. DeLorenzo’s attorney alleges irregularities, and wants the court to block the ballots from being canvassed, or to order a whole new primary election held.
The two men will meet in November, regardless who gets the Conservative line, as each has secured a major party line: DeLorenzo, a Rotterdam attorney, will be on the Republican line and Santabarbara on the Democratic line.
At issue is who will occupy the Conservative line, which in recent years has drawn the most votes of the several minor party lines that typically appear on ballots.
State Board of Election results show the district has 30,195 enrolled Democrats, 21,554 enrolled Republicans and 3,009 enrolled Conservatives. In three of the last four Assembly elections, more than 3,000 votes have been cast for the Conservative candidate.
DeLorenzo’s attorney, Adam Fusco, said in his petition that DeLorenzo won 71% of the in-person votes in the Conservative Primary in Schenectady County but Santabarbara won 81% of the absentee ballots, which he called evidence on its face of serious irregularities.
He also accused Santabarbara and his campaign workers of ballot harvesting — collection, distribution and submission of absentee ballots on his behalf. He said in his court petition that this tainted the election; he told The Gazette it was not illegal, per se.
Santabarbara is represented in the matter by a neighboring Legislature colleague, Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie.
Steck told The Gazette that what is traditionally defined as ballot harvesting — recruiting a bunch of people to enroll in a particular party and then signing them up for absentee ballots when they are not eligible — is illegal and he’s seen it happen in Albany County.
But this election was different, Steck said — the state ordered that every enrolled voter receive an absentee ballot by mail. He said that the Santabarbara campaign did in fact reach out to voters to seek their vote, because that’s what campaigns do.
Steck is seeking dismissal of DeLorenzo’s petition on two grounds: He filed it later than Santabarbara filed his petition and he offers no evidence of fraud.
“It’s a baseless allegation,” he said.
Both campaigns challenged a large number of absentee ballots, mostly because the signature on the envelope was different from the voter signature on records.
Steck’s petition calls for the court to order that the Albany, Montgomery and Schenectady counties boards of election not open the absentee ballots until the court rules on their validity, and that they not certify the results of the primary.
Steck’s petition noted that the current vote total is 325-321 in DeLorenzo’s favor, so the absentee ballots will likely be the deciding factor in the race.
Santabarbara has been elected and then re-elected to the state Assembly four times from 2012 to 2018, twice with a fairly narrow margin of victory and twice with a wide margin. Each time, his Republican opponents have held the Conservative line, and gained a substantial percentage of their total vote count with it.