OGDENSBURG — With the proviso that nothing has been decided until write-in votes have been tallied by the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections, it looks like the 2019 election is the most unusual in quite some time.
Four incumbents, including the mayor, found themselves on the short end of the ballot count and two of the wins came from the write-in campaigns of Jeffery M. Skelly and John Rishe — provisionally.
On Election Night, only the total number of write-in votes is known. Until the ballots are examined Thursday, there is no way to know who the write-in votes are for.
“There could be 500 votes for Donald Duck,” Mr. Rishe, who with Mr. Skelly orchestrated the seemingly successful write-in campaign, said
The overwhelming number of write-ins, 1,481 or 63.8 percent in the mayoral race, makes the outcome a little less uncertain.
While write-in votes are not unusual, they are most often in small numbers and for people not actually running. In the 2011 race for mayor, there were five write-in votes tallied in Ogdensburg. Each was for a different person. One of those votes was for Samuel J. Lamacchia, who was the Democratic candidate on the ballot this year. He finished in third place Tuesday night with 1,111 fewer votes than write-ins cast.
“I think social media played a big part in the campaign,” Mayor Wayne L. Ashley said Tuesday. Ashley, finished 1,011 votes behind the write-in total.
Mr. Skelly and Mr. Rishe held several campaign rallies but were also both very active on Facebook during the 12 weeks they were running.
Mr. Rishe started his campaign online without really intending to, when he launched an online petition calling for a steep 25 percent decrease in city and school taxes in Ogdensburg. It wasn’t until he met Mr. Skelly, who was upset about a reassessment of one of his properties, that they hatched the idea of launching a write-in effort
Opponents scoffed at the tax reductions during a candidates forum at the Dobisky Center in October, saying that the number was too much and would result in a drastic cut in services, such as police and fire in the city.
Mr. Rishe and Mr. Skelly stuck to the number, only qualifying it by saying it might take more than one year.
The current tax rate is nearly $20 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
“We have the highest municipal tax rate in St. Lawrence County,” Mr. Rishe told the Times. “Even at $15 per thousand (the rate with a 25 percent reduction) we would still be way up there.”
The winning margin, in the mayoral race particularly, is typically fairly narrow. In 2011, William D. Nelson beat Jack F. McGrath by just 11 votes. In 2007, Mr. Nelson’s margin over Mr. Lamacchia was just five votes. In 2015, Mr. Ashley did better, beating Vernon D. “Sam” Burns by about 500 votes. This year, the write-in votes came in 439 ahead of Mr. Ashley and Mr. Lamacchia combined.
“I always felt like we were going to win,” Mr. Skelly said Tuesday. “But when it really happens you’re amazed.”