WATERTOWN — The Jefferson County Board of Elections has notified the city of Watertown that it is unlikely to agree on how many candidates should be on the ballot in November’s mayoral race.
The Board of Elections has until Sept. 12 to certify the ballot, but wrote in a letter to City Clerk Ann Saunders that the board is unlikely to reach an agreement on how many candidates to include. Jeffrey M. Smith was the clear top vote-getter in the non-partisan mayoral primary, but after counting absentee ballots, candidates Cody J. Horbacz and Allison I. Crossman tied exactly at 597 votes each. Because the city is governed not under state election law, but a special, non-partisan election law that includes no provisions for tied races, it was unclear what should happen next.
Democratic Commissioner Babette M. Hall said she thought all three candidates should be included, while Republican Commissioner Jude R. Seymour said he would only be willing to certify Mr. Smith.
“We do not anticipate resolving our disagreement without outside intervention,” the commissioners wrote in the joint letter to the city. “If left unattended, the commissioners will certify a general election ballot that has zero mayoral candidates — which seems antithetical to the law’s intent.”
The outside intervention may come from Ms. Crossman. Her campaign, Friends of Allison Crossman, has retained John Ciampoli, of counsel at Sinnreich, Kosakoff & Messina, LLP in Long Island, as an attorney.
“I think the most efficient way to resolve this would be to have the board certify three candidates,” he said.
Mr. Ciampoli is preparing to bring a lawsuit to force the Board of Elections to do this, although he says he would prefer to avoid litigation if necessary.
“We’re ready to go to court if we have to, we’d rather not,” he said.
The issue revolves around a reading of the city non-partisan election law, which says “the board of elections shall certify under the hand of its secretary or commissioners the names of the persons who received the largest and next largest number of votes for mayor.”
Mr. Ciampoli pointed out that the law does not list how many “persons” must be put on the ballot.
“It doesn’t say two, it doesn’t say four, it doesn’t say three,” he said.
Mr. Horbacz for his part is demanding a hand recount of the ballots, as some registered blank on the voting machine. If there are any ballots marked in a way the machine could not read, Mr. Horbacz argues, a hand count could clear things up - one way or another. That is what is happening in a high-profile primary for the Queens district attorney — the top candidates are within 20 votes of each other— but both Ms. Hall and Mr. Seymour have said it would be the wrong decision in this race.
Mr. Ciampoli said that a hand-recount would be more expensive than his request, and a runoff election — another potential solution — would be even more burdensome.
“Some people aren’t worried about spending the tax payer’s money,” he said when asked about the hand recount. “One of the things my client’s looking at is how much this is costing the public.”
Mr. Ciampoli added that the mayoral race had no issues with affidavit ballots — cast voters who do not show up as registered — which is currently an issue in the Queens race. Candidates can challenge affidavit ballots, but none of the candidates in the mayoral race did.
“If no one objected to these ballots, you can’t litigate,” Mr. Ciampoli said.
Ms. Hall and Mr. Seymour effectively welcomed litigation after reaching the impasse. They had reached out to the State Board of Elections to seek clarification, but the state said there is no definite answer because the election did not happen under state election law, although one attorney at the State Board of Elections did recommend listing all three candidates. “We are at this impasse because the law, as written, did not account for the possibility of a tie,” the commissioner’s letter reads. “We would ask for your council, at minimum, to petition its state Legislature to adopt changes that would provide clear direction to the county Board of Elections in case of a future tie vote. We also humbly suggest the City Council consider whether a primary is necessary in a nonpartisan election.”
The letter does say that the county Board of Elections has certified four candidates for City Council — Sarah Compo, Jesse C.P. Roshia, Robert T. Schorr and Patrick J. Hickey.
It also reiterates a claim from both commissioners that the city is violating the law by not reimbursing the county for the cost of the primaries. The commissioners say the city owes $23,919.32 in addition to the cost of this most recent primary, which is yet to be determined.
The Gist of It
BOARD OF ELECTIONS: The Jefferson County Board of Elections sent a letter to Watertown City Clerk Ann Saunders on Friday officially declaring that the commissioners are unlikely to certify a ballot in the mayoral race without outside intervention on the result of the non-partisan mayoral primary
TIE: Jeffrey M. Smith was the clear top vote-getterprimary, but after counting absentee ballots, candidates Cody J. Horbacz and Allison I. Crossman tied exactly at 597 votes, a situation not covered in the city’s special, non-partisan election law
SUIT: The outside intervention may come in the form of a lawsuit from Ms. Crossman’s campaign, which is prepared to sue for all three candidates to appear on the ballot in November