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New FOIL Request Made For Saratoga Springs Charter Change Ballots

A voting machine

Months after a close vote in November, the former chairman of the Saratoga Springs charter review commission is continuing his push to make public the electronic ballot images from the contest to change the Spa City’s system of government. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard says a recent court decision could change things.

Former Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission chair and Skidmore College professor Bob Turner has a new Freedom of Information request to the Saratoga County Board of Elections.

“It is really important to make sure that every vote was counted,” said Turner.

Turner is seeking the electronic scans of ballots cast in the November 2017 election where city residents voted on a charter change. The measure would have shifted the city’s commission-style government to a council-manager form.

On election night, the votes in favor of charter change came out ahead by just 48 votes. But when absentee ballots were counted a week later, the “nays” were 10 votes ahead.

Some former charter change members filed a petition seeking a recount and a release of the electronic scans of the paper ballots, but their request was dismissed by a judge.

Supreme Court Justice Timothy Nolan said the petition’s statement that votes cast by machine may be “incomplete and inaccurate” lacks factual support.

The dismissal hung on the technical notion that the petitioners did not make a proper FOIL request to the county Board of Elections’ Designated Records Officer.

Those opposed to charter change at the time celebrated the decision, including Saratoga Springs resident Richard Sellers, a supporter of a group called SUCCESS.

“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.

So on February 14th, Turner made another request for the ballots.

And now, another request — this time after a similar court case in nearby in Essex County.

“There’s now no legal leg for them to stand on,” said Turner.

In the case of Kosmider v. Whitney, a New York state appellate court effectively ruled that electronic ballot scans can be released in a FOIL request.

Robert Freeman, Executive Director of New York’s Committee on Open Government, provided an advisory opinion in Kosmider v. Whitney.

“We all know all about the sacrosanct element of the voting booth. And the reality is that things were different not so terribly long ago. But with these electronic ballot images, there’s simply no way that an individual voter could be identified. And if these are indeed merely images of how votes are cast, I don’t know why there should be resistance to disclosure, number one. And number two, based upon the language of the election law, it seems to me and a majority of the court – the appellate division – that that conclusion should be reached as well.”

Freeman said he would like to believe the Saratoga County Board of Elections would “respect and honor the decision of the appellate court” in the Kosmider v. Whitney Case.

Even still, Turner was unsure if a recount would change the charter change vote.

“I think it’s premature to say what would or would not happen. We just want to count all the votes,” said Turner.

A request for comment from the Saratoga County Board of Elections was not returned in time for this broadcast.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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