Vote count goes on and on…

GOP asks to subpoena records of Taghkanic voters’ lives 

HUDSON–If you live in the Town of Taghkanic, perhaps you are wondering who your town leaders will be. Five elected positions there have remained undecided since the November 3  election as lawyers argue over more than 80 absentee ballots. After two more days spent in court hearings there is good news and bad.

At a court hearing held Tuesday, December 8, at the Hudson Elks Lodge, nine contested votes received scrutiny and were approved by Judge Jonathan Nichols, who is hearing the case. The ballots were taken back to the county Board of Elections, where they were counted, resulting in Elizabeth Young, longtime town supervisor of Taghkanic, securing another term. But the new vote counts were not enough to resolve the other four races for town justice, highway superintendent, and two town council posts.

Taghkanic residents whose absentee ballots are being challenged can relax at least through the holidays. Judge Nichols will not reconvene another hearing until mid-January. In the meantime, Attorney Kathleen O’Keefe, who represents the Columbia Democratic Committee, along with County Democratic Committee Chairman Chris Nolan and the Taghkanic Democratic candidates will appear before a state appellate court next Wednesday, December 16, seeking to have the higher court overrule Judge Nichols’ decision to allow Republican lawyers to continue their challenges to the Taghkanic ballots.

There was also good news this week for Democrats whose absentee ballots are being challenged because they own or rent second homes in Taghkanic and vote in Columbia County. Judge Nichols declined to rule in favor of plans by the GOP’s attorneys to issue subpoenas that would require voters to produce over 20 types of personal documents, including federal and state and New York City income tax returns, STAR exemptions, social security information, credit card bills, bank statements, records of brokerage accounts, safe deposit boxes, professional licenses and pay stubs, apartment leases, co-op or condo agreements, utility bills, vehicle registration, drivers licenses, EZ Pass records, parking contracts, passports, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, political donations, and proof of children’s school enrollment. The lawyers for the Republicans also want voters to produce licenses and registrations for “aircraft and watercraft.”

Judge Nichols said this would place an undue burden on individuals.

“I won’t do it with what we have now. Belief they have a residence somewhere else is not enough [reason to issue a subpoena],” said the judge Monday. But after reviewing written statements on each voter the Republicans are challenging, the judge told the lawyers they could issue their own attorney subpoenas. Lawyers say those subpoenas are harder to enforce than ones from the court.

Ms. O’Keefe had called the information sought by the Republicans “completely irrelevant,” and suggested that providing proof that someone does not live in Columbia County would be a better way to proceed than looking at their residence elsewhere.

Dan Burstein, the lawyer representing county Democratic Election Commissioner Virginia Martin, said that once a voter is registered, it is up to the Board of Elections to remove that person from the rolls. “It is inappropriate to raise this objection in this fashion,” he said.

The architect of the Republican challenges is John Ciampoli, counsel for County Republican Committee Chairman Greg Fingar and the Republican candidates on the Taghkanic slate. Mr. Ciampoli serves as the election law specialist for the state Assembly minority and was a driving force behind the prolonged recount in the March race for the seat in Congress from the 20th Congressional District between Democrat Scott Murphy and Republican James Tedisco.

Republicans who own second homes and voted by absentee ballot are not being challenged on the basis of second residence. The ballots of well-known second-homers Alan Wilzig and his wife, Karin, are a case in point. Democrats did challenge their absentee ballots but the challenges were based  on technical grounds, including the absence of postmarks. On Monday their ballots were approved by the judge. 

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