Lull wins Chatham seat by 1 vote

CHATHAM–Incumbent town Councilwoman Maria Lull, a Republican, has been reelected to a four-year term by one vote. A ruling by Acting State Supreme Court Judge Henry Zwack on the remaining handful of contested ballots Monday, December 16, gave her that narrowest of margins over Democrat Landra Haber.

In an email to The Columbia Paper on Wednesday, Ms. Lull thanked her campaign committee, volunteers and the voters in the town. “This was a spirited campaign and a long seven weeks to determine the victor,” Ms. Lull wrote. “When people ask themselves, ‘Will my vote really make any difference?’ the answer is definitely Yes, especially, on a local town level, where each voter has the most influence.”

There were four candidates for two open seats on the Chatham Town Board in the November 5 election, and when the voting machine results were counted after the polls closed, the candidates were separated by no more than 15 votes and election officials could not declare an unofficial winner until the absentee ballots were counted.

Once the paper ballots were counted Republican incumbent Henry Swartz Jr. retained his seat, Democrat Kandace Eaton had too few votes to eke out a victory, but legal challenges lodged against some of the ballots left Ms. Lull and Ms. Haber tied. That sent the matter to a Rensselaer County judge to decide which of the four remaining ballots could be counted.

Virginia Martin, the Democratic Commissioner of the Columbia County Board of Elections, said that the lawyers for both side were present Monday at about 5 p.m. at the Board of Elections in Hudson when Judge Zwack ruled that two unopened ballots and one previously opened but contested ballot could be counted. Two of the voters casting those ballots had chosen Ms. Lull; one had chosen Ms. Haber. That gave Ms. Lull the seat.

Ms. Martin said Tuesday that the one ballot not allowed by the judge was cast for Ms. Haber, which would have ended the race in a tie, leaving it to the Town Board to appoint someone to fill the seat from January 1 until the next general election in November.

But Ms. Haber said by email that the lawyer handling the case for the town Democrats advised her any attempt to appeal the judge’s ruling would probably be futile.

Elections Commissioner Martin said that the objections to the final four ballots were all based on the ways in which the ballot forms were marked. She said Republicans had earlier challenged some ballots by questioning whether the voters met residency requirements for voting in the election. She said Judge Zwack did not sustain those objections.

In her email Ms. Haber thanked her supporters and said, “This may not have been our year to win, but we have gained a real and personal knowledge of just how important each and every vote can be. I hope we will all take that hard-won knowledge and turn it into victory from here on in.”

With Ms. Lull’s reelection, the composition of the board remains the same, with the two reelected Republicans and two Democrats whose terms did not expires this year, Bob Balcom and Jean Rohde. Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt is not currently enrolled in an official political party.

“I look forward to returning to the town board in 2014 and to make the Town of Chatham a better and safe place to live,” Ms. Lull wrote. “With the election finally determined, it is now time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work.”

With the Chatham race resolved, the county can now certify the results of the November 2013 election, Ms. Martin said.

Emilia Teasdale contributed to this story.



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