Barbara Blanchard

Wins a Seat on the Schenectady City Council

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  And the Winners Are.... !  (Schenectady Gazette Article Nov. 9, 2005)

   

Hans Pennink  Gazette Photographer

Democratic City Council Candidates Barbara J. Blanchard left, Mark W. Blanchfield center and Gary R. McCarthy urge registered voters to cast their votes at the Yates Village apartments on Tuesday.  The three were winners in Election Day voting.

S C H E N E C T A D Y

Democrats take control
Some cite problems in write-in vote slots

BY KATHLEEN MOORE Gazette Reporter
 
    Democrats took complete control of the Schenectady City Council Tuesday, with sole Republican Cathy Lewis finishing a distant fourth in the race for three council seats.   Voters chose political newcomer Barbara Blanchard as well as former councilman Gary McCarthy and incumbent Mark Blanchfield.

   However, some residents complained that they couldn’t vote for the City Council candidates they wanted because the machines would not let them use the writein slots.  Pat Zollinger, Vince Riggi and Wayne Harper waged an organized write-in campaign this year, going door-to-door, printing fliers and handing out lawn signs.  They said the county Board of Elections should have made sure Tuesday’s voting problems did not occur. But the candidates had not yet decided whether to protest the election results and ask the state Supreme Court to declare the council race results invalid.  However, they would have had to get 5,000 votes each to change the outcome of the race.

   Blanchfield and McCarthy said the Democratic sweep was the result of a strong field organization culminating in a personal get-outthe-vote effort in which all three Democrats went door-to-door on Election Day.  "It looks like we got out the vote in the areas where we needed to do well," Blanchfield said.  Blanchard added: "We worked very, very hard and we were running on a very good record. Democrats have done a lot of good for the city the past few years and good times are coming to Schenectady."

   McCarthy said he is already beginning work to fulfill his election promise of lobbying for $7 million in additional state aid. He had prepared an action plan before the election, he said.  With Mayor Brian U. Stratton’s victory two years ago, all the top elective offices in the city are in Democratic hands.

   Republican Cathy Lewis acknowledged defeat around 10:30 p.m. and went to the Hibernian Hall to congratulate the Demo- crats, a tradition that few have followed in recent years.  "It was a bit astonishing, but this is the way it is," she said as she headed to the hall. "Whether this is a reaction to the national politics or personal, it’s hard to say. I think I’ve had a tremendous effect on trying to bring fiscal stability to the city — it’s disappointing, but I guess it’s over."

WRITE-IN BALLOTS
   On the issue of write-in ballots, Election Commissioner Armando Tebano said the machines did not cause any problems. He said voters simply didn’t understand how to do a write-in, and added that he suspected the complaints were a "set-up."  "They know they’re not getting enough votes," he said. "I’m not calling a person a liar, but we haven’t encountered any machine problems. A lot of what’s going on is they’re trying to vote for four people. It’s been human error."

   Voters told a different story.  Dawn and Chris Cagnina said that before voting for anyone else, they tried to write in three names at City Hall, their polling place. But when they tried to open the correct write-in slots, only slots one, two and three would open. Votes for City Council were supposed to go in slots three, four and five.  Dawn Cagnina said she asked a poll worker for help but still couldn’t get slots four and five open, so she and her husband voted in the first three slots.  "Evidently those votes are no good," she said. "But I couldn’t get four and five open — and I’m not a weak woman . They wouldn’t slide up."

   Tebano said voters were trying to cast four votes for the three City Council seats, but Cagnina said she had not voted for anyone else before opening the write-in slots. "Not even a judge race. I hadn’t touched a thing," she said.

   In another case, resident Paul Feldman was escorted from the Yates Village polls by county sheriff’s deputies after he refused to leave a voting booth because he could only cast two votes for the three council seats. Tebano said he happened to be at the scene and looked at the ballot.  "He had done something in three boxes. You can only vote for three, and that had been done," Tebano said.

   But Feldman said he had only voted for two people, both of whom were write-ins. "I pulled two tabs and wrote in two people," he said. "Then I tried to vote for Mary McClaine, but the lever wouldn’t move . . . they said since I pulled the tabs, I can’t pull the levers. I said, ‘What do you mean, I can’t? There has got to be a way for me to vote for who I want to vote for.’ "

   Election Commissioner Robert Brehm said he told Feldman there was no way for him to vote for McClaine since he’d opened a write-in tab on the same column as McClaine’s name. When Feldman wouldn’t finish his ballot, Brehm reached into the voting booth and pulled the lever to cast the votes Feldman had already marked. "He’d been there over 10 minutes. There was a line forming. We asked him nicely to finish voting, and he refused," Brehm said.

   Feldman said he didn’t get a chance to "really vote."  "I really feel bad that I wasn’t able to vote for Mary McClaine," he said. "Brehm and Tebano were walking around so I guess Democrats and Republicans can get help, but what about those of us who want to vote independent? "

   Feldman tried to contact state Supreme Court Judge Vincent Reilly Jr., who was on call for local voting problems, but he said Reilly had not returned his message by Tuesday evening. He also left messages for the American Civil Liberties Union and called the press.  Tebano noted those calls, saying, "He was calling the press when we walked in. That’s a set-up."  He also said that he sent custodians to fix machines where candidates said the write-in paper was not advancing after each vote.

  "Every time we get a call, we go over there and there’s no problem. The machines are working," Tebano said.  But write-in candidate Pat Zollinger insisted the problem was real.  "I went in with one woman as a helper, and we slid up the slide and Vince Riggi’s name was already there. The paper didn’t advance," she said.  Zollinger asked a poll worker for help, and when the worker couldn’t get the paper to advance, the voter was given an emergency ballot to fill out instead, Zollinger said.

   Brehm said Feldman was not given an emergency ballot because the machine was not broken.


FRUSTRATION
   There were many others who had problems, but some spoke to Zollinger or Riggi later and said they had given up and cast votes for other candidates. "How many did we lose? I’m hearing this all over the place," Riggi said. "Our votes transformed into votes for other candidates because they didn’t want to feel they lost their right to vote."

   The election commissioners do not plan to count write-in votes until Thursday and said they had no advance way of knowing how many write-in votes were cast.

   Unofficial results for the main party candidates were as follows:

   Front-runner Blanchfield received 5,729 votes, followed by McCarthy with 5,352 and Blanchard with 4,973.

   Lewis got 3,756 votes, Republican Sharon Leighton followed with 2,452 votes and Republican Richard Rheingold got 2,332 votes.

   Mary McClaine, who ran under the self-created Inform Party line, received 586 votes.

   In the city judge race, Judge Christine Clark, a Democrat, received 6,323 votes to keep her seat for a 10-year term. Republican challenger William Osta received 2,417 votes.  Clark was appointed city judge last year after Republican Karen Drago won the 2004 county judgeship race.

 

 

Updated Nov 9, 2005