Hearing set after reports of glitch that may have affected Town Board races Democrats appeared to sweep
By JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST, Staff writer
First published: Friday, November 9, 2007
COLONIE -- A state judge on Thursday ordered a hearing on reported problems in town voting machines that may have kept people from voting across party lines in Tuesday's election.
The order from acting state Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. McNamara came at the request of town Republicans, who said several voters had notified them about machines that would not allow them to select both Republicans and Democrats in the race for three Town Board seats.
In unofficial results, the Democrats swept all three seats, plus the supervisor's office, handing them apparent control of the town for the first time ever.
Now all parties have been ordered into court for a Nov. 19 hearing on the matter. The judge could order a new election if the problems with the machines are found to be widespread and significant to the outcome, said the GOP's attorney, James E. Walsh.
The problem appears to stem from the mechanical workings of the machines. Six candidates -- three from each party -- were competing for three seats, and voters should have been able to choose any combination of the six, officials said. State law allows political candidates to run for one office on multiple party lines.
"I just want to lose fairly, if I lose," said candidate Andre B. Claridge, who trailed the nearest Democrat by 694 votes Thursday. "I can control my campaign and what I say to the voters, but I have no control over the voting machines."
It was not clear late Thursday how many of the town's 105 voting machines may have been affected and whether the problem could jeopardize the Democrats' historic insurgence, in which they broke an eight-decade GOP monopoly on town government.
It also was not clear how the problem might affect one party more than the other.
Town Clerk Elizabeth DelTorto, a Republican, said she first heard about the problem around 10 a.m. Tuesday when her office fielded a call from a polling place at the Goodrich School. She gave the following account of what she and four bipartisan custodians in charge of setting up the machines discovered:
The problem is best illustrated in a vertical column of the ballot where one candidate has multiple party lines, such as Democrat Nancy Hernandez, whose name also appeared on the Conservative and Independence party lines. GOP candidate Michael DeMartino's name appeared in the same column just below Hernandez's.
Inside the voting machines, there are pins that prevent a voter from voting three times for Hernandez. But when the pins are in place, they also prevent a voter from selecting both Hernandez and DeMartino, which anyone casting a ballot should be able to do.
The fix is something known as an endorsement -- or endorsing -- strap, which allows a voter to choose two different candidates in the same column but not the same candidate twice.
The problems don't seem to have had an impact on the supervisor's race, so they may not affect the results, which have six-term Republican incumbent Mary Brizzell trailing Democrat Paula Mahan by 373 votes with at least 744 of a possible 1,100 absentee ballots still uncounted. Those ballots are scheduled to be counted starting Thursday.
John A. Graziano, the county's Republican elections commissioner, said the board received three or four calls on the problem Tuesday and, working with DelTorto, dispatched the custodians to fix the problem.
Early Thursday, Graziano did not know how many machines needed to be reconfigured.
"We'll do whatever the judge tells us to do," Graziano said before McNamara issued his order.
Bob Becker, a potential Democratic Town Board winner who worked as an elections custodian in 2005, said the problem is complex and might have happened in 2005, too, had he not noticed.
"I think that if indeed those machines were programmed wrong and you could not choose the candidates you wanted to, then something needs to happen," even if it means a run-off, Becker said.
What bothers him, he said, is that members of both parties, who are given a chance to inspect the machines prior to Election Day, both apparently missed the problem.
Colonie Democratic Chairman Phillip Steck said a judge had rejected a similar argument in Wayne County in 1971.
"They didn't catch the mistake," Steck said. "They lost the election fair and square and now they're trying to reverse the election based on their own error."
Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@ timesunion.com.
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