Itching for vote count? It’s still not approved

HUDSON—The election of 2019 is over, almost. As of noon Wednesday, December 4, the final results of the November 5 general election had not yet been certified by the county Board of Elections and the results remain officially “unofficial.”

A county election commissioners said this week that only two races—Town Board in Ghent and supervisor in Copake – had been so close that the absentee and affidavit ballots had to be counted before it was clear who won.

But there has been an unexpected outcome: Officials now say fleas are likely to blame for the 700 ballots that couldn’t be counted on the first day of early voting in last month’s election.

In Ghent, where voters chose two members of the Town Board from among four candidates, incumbent Patti Matheney (D) was returned to office with 1,031 votes. Results from the ballot scanning machines had Republican Craig Simmons leading the race for the other seat, but the final count showed that Ms. Matheney’s running mate, Koethi Zan, won the other seat with 1,004 votes.

Mr. Simmons had 993 and the fourth candidate, Peter Nelson Sr. 971.

The election of Ms. Matheney and Ms. Zan gives Democrats a majority on the Ghent Town Board.

The two victors issued a statement on the GhentCAN mailing list saying, “Many thanks to all of our supporters! We are overwhelmed by all of your messages of congratulations!”

In Copake, the race for town supervisor looked too close to call when the machine vote tallies for Democrat Jeanne Mettler and Republican Kelly Miller-Simmons showed Ms. Mettler ahead by 27 votes. But when all the ballots were counted, the result showed Ms. Mettler winning with 670 votes to 583 for Ms. Miller-Simmons.

In a press release issued this week Ms. Mettler said, “I am very grateful to the voters for supporting me.” She also said Ms. Miller-Simmons had run “a fair and hard fought campaign.”

Ms. Mettler and Ms. Miller-Simmons have served together on the Copake Town Board since 2012.

All the election results posted on the county Board of Election website have been described since the end of the election as “unofficial.” That was scheduled to change when the two members of the Columbia County Board of Elections officially certify the results. But that had not been done by Wednesday and the person answering the phone at the Board of Elections office Wednesday confirmed that was still the case.

And then there’s the matter of those fleas and the 700 ballots that were rejected by the ballot scanning machines and had to be hand-counted. According to Columbia County Democratic Election Commissioner Virginia Martin, the ballots in question were scanned by machines that had been moved from one storage space to another at the county office building in Hudson before the election. The move was necessary because of an infestation of fleas in the office building.

The vendor that supplies the vote scanning machine involved “did not calibrate the printer after moving it,” Ms. Martin said in an email Tuesday, December 3. That was despite the fact that the Board of Elections hired the vendor to move the machine instead of having county workers move it because the board wanted the machines handled by the experts.

When some ballots were not accepted on October 26, 2019, the first day of early voting statewide, the election commissioners checked with the state approved ballot printer. That company said the ballots had no flaws.

So now the commissioners are investigating filing a claim against the scanning machine vendor. Also, Ms. Martin said that the Board of Elections “will have a new vendor come in and make sure the calibration is perfect and the belts are tightened. We’re very confident that our ballots for the next election will work just fine.”

The county said earlier this year that the fleas were gone after sections of the building were fumigated. Some county employees disputed that statement.

Republican Election Commissioner Jason Nastke, reached by phone Tuesday, was not able to comment at that time. He had not returned the call by press deadline Wednesday.

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