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Judge Rejects Petition Seeking Recount In Saratoga Springs Charter Vote

A voting machine

A petition to re-count ballots in Saratoga Springs’ close charter change vote in November has been denied by a judge. But petitioners are not giving up.

On election night, an initial tally showed voters supporting changing Saratoga Springs’ system of government ahead by a margin of just 48. 

A week later, absentee ballots were counted. The tables turned, with votes opposed to charter change leading by 10.

The close count was challenged in court by supporters of the long-running charter change effort. The council form of government would have been altered to a council-manager-style government.

Former Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission member Gordon Boyd filed a petition in New York Supreme Court seeking a recount.

The petition sought a recount of all ballots cast in the City of Saratoga Springs by a hand or by a review of the image files, or .TIF files, scanned by the voting machines used in the election. The idea was to look for discrepancies.

The petitioner also filed a FOIL request to the Saratoga County Board of Elections for the scanned and unscanned ballots.

On February 6th, Supreme Court Justice Thomas Nolan dismissed the petition.

In his notes, Justice Nolan said the petition’s statement that votes cast by machine may be “incomplete and inaccurate” lacks factual support.

That notion was celebrated by Richard Sellers, a supporter of the group called SUCCESS, which advocated against charter change.

“The judge’s decision stating that the petitioner presented no facts to support or justify his request pretty well summarizes why the decision was made and we of course appreciate it and agree with that,” said Sellers.

The judge also upheld the Saratoga County Board of Election’s argument that the FOIL request for ballots was not made to the appropriate person, the county’s designated Records Access Officer.

The Saratoga County Board of Elections noted in its arguments that ballot-counting machines in six county election districts had been routinely audited after Election Day. None, however, were used in the Saratoga Springs election.

“That to us was very frustrating,” said Turner.

Bob Turner, former chair of the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission, is pushing forward.

On February 14th, Turner filed a new FOIL request with the county’s designated Records Access Officer: in this case, Therese Connolly, Deputy Clerk of the Board.

Turner’s request asks for all unscanned ballots, all ballots not counted and reasons why, all scanned ballots placed on a DVD, every ballot ruled invalid by the Board of Elections, and all absentee ballots and ballots cast at the BOE.

Turner is also pointing to a case in Essex County, which considerswhether electronic voting images of ballots cast in the November 2015 general election can be disclosed under FOIL.

That case, Kosmider v Whitney, was also mentioned in the petition filed against the Saratoga County Board of Elections.

“Then, I think we could go back to a judge and say,‘Listen, here’s the sort of evidence that the totals are off and we’d like to order a recanvas,” said Turner.

Meantime, a new mayor of Saratoga Springs has taken office under the same form of government ruling the Spa City for a century.

For past stories on the charter change vote in Saratoga Springs, visit WAMC.org.

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