The state’s highest court confirmed Malta town Supervisor Paul Sausville’s one-vote victory Tuesday, refusing to hear his challenger’s last-ditch appeal.
The Court of Appeals refused to review the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court’s recent unanimous decision that two absentee votes for Democrat Cynthia Young were invalid because the voters had written on the backs of the ballots.
The Court of Appeals seldom agrees to hear cases decided unanimously by the Appellate Division, and Young’s request for review was a longshot.
The decision clears any cloud of doubt hanging over Sausville, a Republican, as he is sworn into a new term today and prepares to become chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors on Thursday.
“We’re done. I’m disappointed, that’s all I can say,” Young said after learning of the decision.
But James Walsh of Schenectady, the lawyer representing Sausville, said the decision to let the lower court rulings stand confirms how those courts interpreted the law.
“I think it’s been settled law all along,” Walsh said Tuesday. “By their not hearing it, it’s pretty clear it’s the law of the land. Words written on the ballot make it invalid.”
State Supreme Court Judge Robert J. Chauvin in November, and the five-judge Appellate Division on Dec. 17, each found two potentially decisive absentee votes for Young shouldn’t be counted because of written words on the ballot.
The decision means Sausville was re-elected by a vote of 1,582-1,581. The four-term incumbent has been a divisive figure in Malta, with his margins of victory slipping in each of the last two elections. Sausville has indicated he won’t run again in 2015.
Had the disputed votes for Young been counted, Young would have won in a major upset over an incumbent in a town that generally votes Republican.
Both contested absentee ballots had the words “no vote” written on the back of the ballot, clearly in reference to one of the propositions that appeared on the back of the ballot. One ballot also has letters that may be initials.
The lower courts found the words on the ballot invalidated the entire ballot, as a matter of 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 Appellate Division judges wrote.
Young’s attorney, Kathleen O’Keefe of Greene County, argued the voters’ intent was clear, and the markings on the back of the ballot shouldn’t invalidate them.
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 had 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.