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Democratic Rensselaer County Executive Candidate Warns GOP Is Misusing WFP Ballot Line

Gwen Wright [center] and Phil Markham [right] stand with WFP supporters outside Albany GOP Headquarters.
Dave Lucas
Gwen Wright [center] and Phil Markham [right] stand with WFP supporters outside Albany GOP Headquarters.

A candidate for Rensselaer County Executive is alleging the Republican Party is misusing third-party ballot lines.

"So we are gathered here outside of the GOP headquarters for a reason and it's because of a statewide effort to take the line from the WFP endorsed candidates."

Democrat and Working Families Party candidate Gwen Wright, standing outside state Republican headquarters in Albany Thursday, cited an investigative report from POLITICO that found that the Rensselaer County GOP is attempting to knowingly mislead voters by registering GOP operatives as Working Families Party members and running fake candidates in WFP primaries.

Phil Markham is the state committee leader of the Rensselaer County Working Families Party.

"Operatives who are either elected officials of the Republican Party or tax paid employees who work under the thumb of the same, are attempting to steal power from the people that are making a mockery of our important electoral systems. What they have done, is to use loopholes in the law to place their own fake candidates on the Working Families Party row of the ballot. When I say fake candidates, I mean people who in many cases don't even know that they're running for office, who don't live in New York State, who may not even exist as is the case of one person whose address is listed as a boarded and foreclosed shell of a home in Hoosick Falls. He is a former tenant of the former Republican Commissioner of Elections who used to own that building."

Markham says there are "many others" including a 20-year-old highway worker who says he has no interest in politics. He adds the intent is not for those candidates to win, but to open up a first primary to trick voters and persuade them to sign previously filled absentee ballots.

Wright says the fakery isn't limited to just Rensselaer County, and the WFP will continue to fight voter suppression.

"What is however, unfortunately unique to Rensselaer County is the failure of our Board of Elections to select an early voting location which complies with the letter and spirit of New York's early voting law by designating an easily accessible early voting location in the city of Troy. That is unconscionable."

A judge ruled in favor of New York Attorney General Tish James in a lawsuit filed last month against the Rensselaer County Board of Elections and its commissioners claiming officials failed to provide voters with adequate and equitable access to early voting poll sites. The Board of Elections, which has not responded to requests for comment from WAMC, is reportedly appealing the ruling.

The Republican Board of Elections Commissioner for Rensselaer County told WAMC in April the BOE was in compliance with the state’s early voting law.

Wright, a resident of Schodack, announced her challenge to first-term Republican Steve McLaughlin in March. She recently served as Executive Director of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, and currently serves on the board of directors of Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood and the Center for Women and Government in Civil Society. She’s also past president of organizations In Our Own Voices and the Pride Center of the Capital Region.

Republican organizations and officials did not immediately return requests for comment, including former Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian, who works for the County Legislature’s majority, Troy City Council President Carmella Mantello, County Executive McLaughlin's office and the state Republican Committee.


Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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