RENSSELAER, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Friday was meant to mark a ballot recount in the City of Rensselaer, hopefully to decide the next mayor. However, plans were suddenly halted by a Supreme Court judge after candidates submitted requests for intervention.
Incumbent Mike Stammel initially lead the race by just six votes before absentee ballots could be considered.
“We started opening the ballots on Monday of this week and after the initial opening, there were 129 objections. Sixty objections by Mr. Mooney, 69 objections by Mr. Stammel,” explains Rensselaer County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Ed McDonough.
Both candidates had three days to request a judge’s intervention before all the absentees were opened. McDonough confirms the Democratic mayoral candidate, Rich Mooney, did just that late Wednesday afternoon.
A statement by the Friends of Rich Mooney Campaign claims the decision comes amid voter fraud allegations and an ongoing investigation by state police. As NEWS10 has reported, NYS Police investigators confirm they are inquiring into claims by voters that requests were made for absentee ballots in their names and authorization for county staff to pick them up on voters behalf, despite such voters claiming they never made the requests in the first place. McDonough clarifies he has been contacted by investigators about these requests authorized by Teresa Merriman, a clerk on the county legislative staff, as well as fraudulent signatures.
The full statement by Mooney’s team reads:
“The sheer closeness of this election, the reports of potential ballot misconduct, investigations by federal and state authorities, have led our campaign’s attorneys to ask the Court to hold all remaining ballots from being counted. As it has become abundantly clear, every single vote in this election matters and we are ensuring that each vote is being protected, counted fairly, and with accuracy. The people of the City of Rensselaer deserve to know that their elections were handled fairly and accurately and we are encouraged that the Court believes this to be the case as well.”Joe Bonilla, Rich Mooney for Mayor Campaign Spokesperson
On the topic of the voter fraud investigation, Mayor Stammel says he has not been contacted by investigators, nor does he know anyone who has. He further states he does not believe he, his administration staff, nor any campaign staff have interfered with the election in any way.
“Nobody signs their name the same all the time, but there’s some reason there I guess to question if they have to do that,” Stammel says. “I believe all the ballots and ballots that are available are true to form. If there’s anything that’s wrong with any of those ballots, I do not know anything about it, nor do I have any part of it.”
Stammel further claims despite his initial objections, he did not intend to contest the results.
“I believe it’s an opportunity for my opponent, Mr. Mooney, to steal the election. I think if he knew and that if he believes that he has a chance of winning, then he would be jumping forward and saying, open up the ballots I think the rest of them are mine,” Stammel says in an interview with NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
However, McDonough confirms Stammel’s legal counsel also submitted their own court case to intervene in the election. It was submitted Friday morning just before the three day deadline expired. McDonough says now a judge will have to decide if their objections hold any merit.
“What do they come to the table with? Are there legitimate objections? Do they have grounds to have those ballots unopened and thrown out or something? We don’t really know, and we won’t know until we get it into the courtroom on the 19th,” he explains.
The initial hearing is set for Friday, November 19 and the location and time are yet to be determined.