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Canton voters unable to cast ballots in legislative race

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CANTON — More than 290 potential Canton voters were unable to choose between Democrat Stephen M. Putman and Republican William L. Fobare in the District 9 St. Lawrence County legislative contest because the race did not appear on their ballot.

The mistake by the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections was caused by the Board of Legislators’ decision in 2012 to redistrict the county, including Canton, because of population shifts represented in the census. At the same time, there was a consolidation of election districts, which took effect in 2012. The legislative district change goes into effect in 2014.

No one anticipated that Mr. Putman, an incumbent and former Brasher Falls Central School superintendent, would resign from the board this year for retirement purposes and then be reappointed to his legislative position.

His break in service required that the legislative seat be on the ballot this fall.

“It’s a perfect storm,” county Republican Election Commissioner Thomas A. Nichols said. “An error was clearly made and that disenfranchised some people. We discovered this when we received feedback from voters Tuesday night. We were the ones who informed the candidates.”

The unofficial result Tuesday of the race was that Mr. Putman won with 623 votes. Mr. Fobare received 408 votes, a difference of 215.

The Board of Elections determined Wednesday that there were 95 voters who showed up at the polls who should have had the race on their ballots so the outcome, even if Mr. Fobare received all of those votes, would not change.

There were also five people who received ballots in the race who should not have,

“We can’t deduct those from anybody’s total,” Mr. Nichols said.

The Board of Elections also sent out more than 108 absentee ballots for that race and has so far received back 86. The Board of Elections will start to count absentee ballots for races across the county Nov. 15.

If Mr. Fobare were to receive all of the 203 possible votes from those unable to be cast or in absentee form, he would still be behind.

Even though Mr. Putman’s victory seems assured, he said the mistake was unfortunate.

“I think the right to vote is important,” Mr. Putman said. “It’s never a good thing when people are disenfranchised.”

More important than the impact on the results is that some people were left out of the electoral process, Mr. Fobare said.

“I’m strongly feeling everyone’s vote in a democracy counts, whether it’s on the losing side or winning side,” he said. “Certainly something has to be done.”

Part of Mr. Fobare’s campaign platform was that he wanted to involve more people in the actions of government.

He said he is waiting for more information from the Board of Elections before deciding whether to pursue a judicial remedy. A legal petition in state Supreme Court could be filed by anyone affected by the mistake, including voters, Mr. Fobare and Mr. Putman.

“I believe that several voters are leaning in that direction,” Mr. Fobare said. “When I am informed directly of my options, I will make that decision.”

The outcome of several other close races and one tie in the county could change with the counting of absentee ballots and the recanvass of results.

Those are:

n For the village of Canton, the Board of Elections sent out 120 absentee ballots and has received back 90 so far. Those numbers could change the results of the second and third-place finisher in the four-way race for two trustee seats. On Election Day, Carol Pynchon had 519 votes. Michael E. Dalton received 469. Brooke James-Rouse had 445 and Nicholas E. Kocher had 326 votes.

n There are two absentee ballots for Clare, where Tuesday’s unofficial tally showed a tie at 26 votes each for highway superintendent between Richard L. Hance and Paul B. Colton.

n Hopkinton voters requested 12 absentee ballots which will help decide the outcome of a close race for the two-year unexpired term for highway superintendent. On Election Day, Stephen A. Green had 146 votes and Francis Frank Barney had 144 votes.

n For Ogdensburg, the Board of Elections as of Tuesday had received 104 of the 147 absentee ballots it issued. In the race for three council seats, Brian R. Mitchell had 1,004 votes; Daniel E. Skamperle had 967 votes; Michael D. Morley had 861 votes, Penny Sharrow had 813 and James R. Amo received 763 votes.

n In Lisbon, there was a three-way race for two seats on the town council. Retired Sheriff Gary J. Jarvis received 607 votes. Ruth C.O. Green had 156 votes but there were 386 write-in votes. While the write-ins will not be known until the recanvass of voting machines, which starts Friday, retired county Treasurer Robert O. McNeil was an announced write-in candidate, as was Sarah Green.

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