SCHENECTADY — The final party line in question for the City Council race has been settled, following a dispute over absentee ballots.
Marion Porterfield, not Mohamed Hafez, will appear on the Working Families Party line alongside Damonni Farley and John Mootooveren. The candidates remained deadlocked after a brief court hearing, and the party itself ultimately chose Porterfield as its third candidate.
Prior to absentee ballots being counted, Farley and Mootooveren had secured a top-two finish in the Working Families Party primary, receiving 36 and 29 votes, respectively. However, Porterfield had 19 votes, while Hafez received 11 write-in votes.
With 15 outstanding ballots to be counted, only Porterfield was at risk of being knocked off the party line by Hafez.
Hafez appeared to finish with 21 votes, but two absentee votes were set aside by the Schenectady County Board of Elections for further examination. Porterfield's team then filed a case contending the ballots should be dismissed, said Assemblyman Phil Steck, who represented Porterfield in the proceedings Thursday and Friday.
Hafez's campaign filed a response, arguing for the legitimacy of the ballots, but ultimately withdrew that filing, ending the proceeding, Steck said.
As a result, Hafez and Porterfield were left tied at 19 votes each. In the case of a tie, the party itself determines which candidate will appear on its line. Party leaders chose Porterfield, Steck said.
The facts of the case revolved around four voters, Steck said. Two people signed the poll book next to the wrong names on Sept. 12, and the voters in whose place they voted had submitted absentee ballots, thus raising a concern that someone may have voted twice.
The absentee ballot system is often exploited in smaller, third-party races, Steck said. Candidates or party operatives sometimes help voters — some of whom may not be educated about the process — apply to receive an absentee ballot, even if they technically don’t require one, he said.
“They register people in parties they know nothing about or don’t subscribe to,” Steck said. "We want to maximize the number of people who vote, but the absentee ballot process isn’t necessarily the right way to do it.”
To qualify for an absentee ballot, a voter has to be absent from their county on Election Day, unable to appear at the polls due to illness or disability, a patient in a Veterans’ Affairs hospital or detained in jail for a non-felony offense.
In response to the ordeal, Hafez called Porterfield “selfish” and “divisive,” saying this isn’t the first time she’s taken a potential challenger to court.
“As far as I’m concerned, I won with 21 votes, and she’s the one that filed the lawsuit, and she kind of stole that endorsement from me,” Hafez said.
The Working Families primary is the latest twist in what has been a dramatic build-up to this year's City Council election. In July, the Schenectady County Board of Elections ruled that nearly half of the signatures on Farley's petition to appear on the Democratic Party line were invalid, following a challenge brought by the party itself.
Voting for the City Council race and other local elections will occur from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 7. To be eligible to vote, one must be a city resident registered with the Schenectady County Board of Elections. Voters can choose up to three candidates.
Six candidates are vying for three open seats. The race consists of three incumbents and three political newcomers.
Here is who will be on each party line in November:
- Democratic Party: John Mootooveren, Marion Porterfield, Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas
- Republican Party: Rima Cerrone, Mohamed Hafez
- Conservative Party: Cerrone, Mootooveren, Zalewski-Wildzunas
- Green Party: Damonni Farley, Hafez, Mootooveren
- Working Families Party: Farley, Mootooveren, Porterfield
- Independence Party: Mootooveren, Porterfield, Zalewski-Wildzunas
- Women’s Equality Party: Zalewski-Wildzunas
- Reform Party: Cerrone, Hafez