COLONIE – Alison McLean Lane, a county legislator looking to become the next town clerk, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, Sept. 19, challenging the some 177 absentee ballots filed in the Independence Party primary.
Her Republicans opponent, Julie Gansle, was at the Board of Elections ready to open the absentee ballots, but the lawsuit came with a court order preventing that from happening until a judge rules on the merits of McLean Lane’s case.
There is a hearing set for Monday, Sept. 25.
On Primary Day, McLean Lane led Gansle by a count of 146 to 94 for the right to run on the Independence Party line in November. McLean Lane had the Independence Party’s endorsement, and as such her name appeared on the ballot. Gansle and the GOP, though, filed enough signatures to open an opportunity to ballot and voters were able to go to the polls and write in her name on Primary Day and/or vote for her by absentee.
McLean Lane, in the lawsuit filed by attorney Nicholas Tishler,
claims Republicans engaged in “fraud” and other unsavory practices in obtaining an inordinate amount of absentee ballots when compared to previous years.
“We need to protect our democratic process, which is sacred,” McLean Lane said.
Rachael Bledi, the Republican commissioner at the Board of elections, speaking on behalf of Gansle, said McLean Lane is the one who crossed into the realm of illegality when she hired a private investigator who, prior to Election Day, canvassed absentee ballot voters.
“When you don’t believe the voters should have a choice, but rather that choice should be left to party bosses, that’s voter suppression,” Bledi said. “She is trying to litigate her way to the finish line, and in the process she is disenfranchising voters and, I think, sending an investigator to talk to voters before the election is a form of intimidation.”
Bledi provided a hand written letter to the Board of Elections from two voters who claim the investigator “violated” their privacy and how they “were appalled” he showed up at their doorstep.
“As far as I know it is the right of every productive member of the community to voice their opinion for voting choices,” said the letter signed by Susan and Raymond Coon on Sept. 10.
McLean Lane said the Coons cast their vote on Sept. 1 so any allegation of intimidation is moot.
“He needed to find out what was going on,” she said. “We wanted an objective third party licensed professional to properly do the job and I think the documentation speaks for itself.”
In her papers, she alleges there was an excessive number of absentee applications requested and an inordinate number of ballots that came back thanks to GOP operatives breaking Election Law.
“It’s concerning when 41 percent of the voters in an election vote by absentee, everybody should be concerned,” McLean Lane said. “We cannot utilize the absentee ballot process to swing an election when you have to qualify to be an absentee ballot voter.”
For example, in 2012 there were 450 total votes in Colonie Independence Party primaries with 22 absentee ballots counted. In 2015 there were 346 total ballots cast in the primaries with 51 absentees counted. This year there are more than three times the number of absentees.
“Julie Gansle is a popular candidate and it’s not inconsistent with anything else that comes out of her campaign,” Bledi said. “Julie has deep roots in Colonie and she is someone who went out and met every Independence Party voter. Allison McLean Lane didn’t want to do the leg work and is looking for a short cut.”
The private investigator hired by McLean Lane, Michael Alvaro, of Albany Investigation and Process Services, was able to question 16 absentee voters their responses are included in the lawsuit.
Some said they were working an unable to make it to the polls and some said it was suggested to them to enroll in the party by GOP officials or operatives and then to vote by absentee. Others refused to answer questions and others said they enrolled and requested to vote by absentee without outside prodding or influence.
“I’m interested to see if she is going to subpoena the elderly and handicapped voters who voted absentee and make them come into court and testify,” Bledi said. “She is alleging voters who applied for absentee ballots were not eligible to apply for absentee ballots but she legitimizes a number of applications through her own research.”
“What we want is a review of what happened here,” McLean Lane countered. “We are not looking to go after any voters but anyone who looks at the number of absentee ballots cast in this race should be concerned.”
Politicians of both parties wage absentee ballot campaigns for every election, primary and general, but they vary in concentration and strength. With the much smaller numbers, absentee operations have a much larger impact on minor party primary races.
The process can be tricky, is often misunderstood and as often abused. Operatives can legally fill out all the information on the application and bring it to the voter to sign. They can also pick up the actual ballot and bring it to the person so he or she can vote and then the operative can bring it back to the Board of Elections. The Albany County BOE has a self-imposed eight-ballot per operative limit, which McLean Lane’s lawsuit claims was violated.
Minor parties, with catchy names like Independence and Working Families, can translate into big numbers on Election Day and are often the margin of victory in close races.
As of now Gansle has the Republican, Conservative and Reform party lines while McLean Lane will appear on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines.
The lawsuit names Gansle, her husband and two family members as defendants as well as Bledi and her Democratic Party counterparty Matt Clyne. It also names Republican Albany County Legislator Paul Burgdorf and his wife and Colonie Town Board member David Green and his family members.
McLean also filed a lawsuit challenging Gansle’s petitions for the Independence Party line, but it was withdrawn before reaching a judge.
While the lawsuit does not indicate what judge will hear the case, Bledi said it appears it will be in front of Albany County Judge Kimberly O’Connor on Monday at 1:30 p.m.
McLean Lane and Gansle are vying for the spot being vacated by retiring clerk Elizabeth Del Torto.