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Votes impounded in Fourth Judicial District race (update)

November 16, 2012
By CHRIS MORRIS and JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writers , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Voters will have to wait a little longer to find out who won the Nov. 6 election for four new judges in the state Supreme Court's Fourth Judicial District.

All 11 county boards of elections in the Fourth District are now under an impoundment order, meaning all ballots and election materials must be returned to the "offices of the Respondents Counties' Boards of Elections," according to a petition filed in Montgomery County Supreme Court on Wednesday. The petition was filed by Felix Catena, a Montgomery County Court judge who is locked in the close race.

As of last Friday, Catena led John Ellis, a family court magistrate who lives in Tupper Lake, by only 61 votes, according to Catena's tally. Thousands of absentee ballots still need to be counted. Catena and Ellis both ran on the Republican and Conservative party lines.

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Eight candidates ran for four 14-year seats in the Fourth District. Vote counts vary among news media and candidates, but all of the counts have Republican Joseph Sise leading, followed by Democrat Christine Clark. In the middle of these counts are Republicans Thomas Buchanan, Catena and Ellis, and Democrat Mark Powers. All the counts so far have Democrats John Silvestri and Jeffrey Wait with the least votes.

Wednesday's petition, which was signed by Schenectady Supreme Court Justice Vincent J. Reilly, calls for "all voting materials ... to be preserved inviolate and separate, under a security system requiring bi-partisan participation to access of all election and ballot materials."

"The candidates feel that there's a reason (they) didn't win," Terrance Smith, Republican elections commissioner for Montgomery County, told the Enterprise. "So what they want to do is show cause by having people observing as we do the re-canvass and the counting of the affidavits and the absentees and all of that.

"And also, any voter at any time could object to the counting of an absentee ballot. So then they have people here to decide whether or not we're going to count an absentee ballot before we even open it."

Smith said impounding the ballot slows down the vote-counting process.

"All 11 counties in the Fourth (Judicial District) basically have to stop doing any re-canvassing or absentee counting at this point," he said. "But because we have the first order, which says that we're supposed to be done doing our re-canvass by Saturday, that's where we're at. We're counting those."

The "first order" Smith referred to was signed by Montgomery County Surrogate Court Justice Guy Tomlinson after Republican George Amedore sued to impound votes in the race for New York's 46th Senate District. It affected ballots in part of Schenectady County and all of Montgomery County, which is part of the Fourth District.

Smith said lawyers for both Catena and Ellis and a representative from each board of elections in the Fourth District will appear at the county courthouse in Schenectady at 9:30 a.m. Monday to agree on how to proceed.

Franklin County election commissioners said Thursday that they had been recounting their ballots and had gotten through the town of Franklin - the 13th town in the county alphabetically - when they got the order and had to stop. The county had about 1,312 absentee ballots sent in, and 250 affidavit ballots were submitted, though Republican Commissioner Veronica King noted that all of those won't be counted. Elections officials have to make a ruling on each one.

Franklin County legislators were in an uproar Thursday because they got the impression that all the county's election materials, including voting machines, had to be transported to Montgomery County. Besides the cost of transporting voting machines, Legislator Paul Maroun, a Republican from Tupper Lake, said he had a big problem with the idea of sending all those materials to the home county of the man tied in a close race against a man from Franklin County.

But election commissioners clarified that they will have to travel there with just the ballots.

The Fourth District consists of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, St. Lawrence and Washington counties.

Phone and email messages left for Catena hadn't been returned as of this morning. An email message sent to Ellis hadn't been returned as of this morning, either.



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