Montgomery County

‘O’ no: Canajoharie race will come down to four ballots

Four errant votes possibly intended for Canajoharie town supervisor candidate Ronald O. Dievendorf could leave him tied with Benny Goldstein for the position after a recount at the Montgomery Board of Elections on Nov. 18, 2021.

Four errant votes possibly intended for Canajoharie town supervisor candidate Ronald O. Dievendorf could leave him tied with Benny Goldstein for the position after a recount at the Montgomery Board of Elections on Nov. 18, 2021.

After Thursday’s recount in the Canajoharie supervisor race, Republican Benny Goldstein still leads Democrat Ronald O. Dievendorf by four votes — for now. But in the manual recount, officials discovered exactly four ballots on which voters filled in the “O” of Dievendorf’s middle initial rather than filling in the bubble.

Now, a judge will decide if those four votes should count. If a judge deems that they should count, the race will be tied at 342 votes apiece. In the event of a tie, the four-person Town Council could determine the outcome, according to Montgomery County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Terry A. Bieniek. He said the council could choose either candidate or opt for someone else. Whoever is selected will only serve until a special vote is held on Election Day 2022. There was no immediate timeline on when the case would go before a judge, Bieniek said.   

“It comes down to voter intent,” said Bieniek. “Because they circled the little “O,” I believe, personally, their intent was to vote for Ronald Dievendorf.”

However, the county’s Republican commissioner, Terrance J. Smith, said the ballots have inconsistent markings that make it hard to determine voter intent. He said filling in the bubble with an “X” would be one thing, but filling in the middle initial, when the voter successfully filled in bubbles elsewhere on the ballot, points to inconsistencies.

“They can mark it with an X,” Smith said. “That to me is voter intent. But when they put a mark in the oval of the other candidates, that is not marked in a consistent fashion.”

Dievendorf said his middle name is Owen, his father’s name, and he never thought twice about including his middle initial on the ballot.

“That’s the way I sign my name legally,” Dievendorf said.

Rodney Young, the current acting town supervisor, declined to speculate on how a town council vote deciding the race may go, but he did say he was open to continuing on as acting supervisor for another year. Young also acknowledged the unusualness of the situation, even chuckling a little as he spoke.

“It’s kind of unprecedented,” he said. “I’ve never been aware of a situation like this before. Let’s wait and see what happens and let the process play out. But it’s pretty unique. That’s the democratic process right there. It takes me back to Bush v. Gore.”

National dynamics

The town supervisor race has had national dynamics from the start. It features a town newcomer in Goldstein, who makes his money in real estate and was on Israel’s “Big Brother” reality TV program, playing up his loyalty to former President Donald Trump in a campaign against a two-time village mayor in Dievendorf, a Democrat who campaigned on his past political experience.

Young said party affiliation likely played into the race, but “to what degree here, I don’t know.” 

The town of Canajoharie has 2,419 registered Republicans compared to 1,493 registered Democrats, according to the Montgomery County Board of Elections. Outside the polls on Election Day, voters were mixed in their allegiances. Dievendorf’s path to victory relied, partly, on citizens like James W. Akers, 68, who wore a Trump hat to vote but said he went for Dievendorf despite party affiliation because he knows Dievendorf and thinks he’s “pretty sharp.”

“I knew Ron all my life,” Akers said. “He’s got more experience.”

But other voters, like daughter and mother Diane and Ann McMahon, said they toed the Republican party line.

“I’m going for the new guy,” Diane McMahon said. “It seems like, although he’s not from here, he’s got some good ideas.”

On Thursday, Goldstein said he was on pins and needles.

“Oy, I can’t sleep. I’m stressed. I’m in limbo. And I don’t like being in limbo,” said Goldstein, who is from Israel and ran unsuccessfully for Israel’s national legislative body in 2013 and in 2015. “My stress levels are through the roof.”

Dievendorf said he liked his chances in the courts.

“As [Bieniek] explained it to me, it was obvious that the voters who made those marks with my name, their intent was to vote for me,” he said.

Goldstein has floated the idea of sharing the supervisor position, with Goldstein serving two years with Dievendorf as his deputy and then reversing roles for the following two years. But that idea is a nonstarter with Dievendorf. 

“That’s not going to happen,” he said.

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie

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