The chairman of the Clinton County Republican Party has filed a lawsuit to keep U.S. Rep. Bill Owens off the Working Families Party line in the Nov. 6 election.
Owens, a Democrat from Plattsburgh, is running for re-election in New York's new 21st Congressional District. Earlier this month, he filed a petition with 94 signatures to get on the Working Families Party line; he needed 60 to qualify.
But Clinton County GOP Chairman Don Lee filed a challenge to Owens' WFP petition with the state Board of Elections, and on Tuesday Lee filed a lawsuit in Saratoga County Supreme Court to keep Owens from appearing on the party's line.
Rep. Bill Owens
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
Lee has endorsed Republican Watertown businessman Matt Doheny in this year's Congressional election.
Lee said he believes most of the signatures are invalid because of things like incorrect addresses, questionable signatures and "the inclusion of non-party members.
"Evidence shows that the congressman and staff turned in incomplete and inadequate petitions containing 94 signatures," Lee said in an email to media outlets.
Lee told the Enterprise the lawsuit is being funded by "concerned Republicans."
To investigate the signatures, Lee enlisted Matthew Booth and James Weldon of McKee & Associates, a Plattsburgh-based private investigation firm. Booth is a former chief of the Plattsburgh Police Department; Weldon is a former federal agent.
Lee said the investigators interviewed 25 people who signed a WFP petition that was circulated by Jacqueline Bellew. Of those people, 16 said Bellew did not administer an oath, according to a report filed by the two investigators. Nine said they could not remember.
Lee said the investigators also found that the notary public did not "properly confirm the identity of the person signing the petition."
The case must go to the courts because the BOE cannot rule on the notary's actions, Lee said.
"I'm confident the court will agree that these signatures were improperly collected," he said. "Most of the mistakes on this petition occurred in my home county. I believe I have a responsibility to our voters - and to the ballot process - to voice my objection when I see something done improperly."
Owens' campaign manager, James Hannaway, said in a statement emailed to the Enterprise that the congressman is confident the signatures are valid.
"The New York Board of Elections has already ruled in Congressman Owens' favor on this case, striking 16 signatures from our total," Hannaway said. "Meanwhile, they struck nearly 100 from Mr. Doheny's Independence (Party) line."
Edmund C. Jasewicz, a member of the Fulton County Democratic Committee and a delegate for President Barack Obama, challenged Doheny's Independence Party petition in April. The BOE has since found the petition to be valid.
Doheny spokesman Jude Seymour said BOE officials struck 85 signatures from the petition, leaving the candidate with 1,290 valid signatures. Doheny needed 852 to appear on the Independence Party line. No court challenges have been filed, Seymour said.
Kellie Greene, a Republican challenger to Doheny in the June 26 primary, also filed a challenge to Doheny's Conservative Party petition. She told the Enterprise her campaign team "did a thorough review" of the signatures and found "several errors." But Greene said those errors "fell a little short of the threshold required to be able to proceed with the challenge."
BOE officials will review the lawsuit on the WFP petition next week, Lee said. A court hearing on the lawsuit has been set for 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.