Elections board looking into claim that Ogdensburg primary, Nov. ballot were improperly handled
Wednesday, August 14, 2019 - 5:35 pm

By JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week

OGDENSBURG -- St. Lawrence County Board of Elections Commissioners and Ogdensburg’s city attorney and clerk are looking into claims that the June primary races and next November’s ballot for city council were handled improperly.

Write-in candidates in the upcoming Ogdensburg City Council election are calling into question the validity of the primary races and the ballot for November.

“We recently reviewed the ballot for the fall election in Ogdensburg, and it is our opinion that the primary election that was recently held and the ballot for the November election as presently formulated, and not yet certified, are both in violation of the Ogdensburg City Charter,” a letter signed by council candidate John Rishe and mayoral candidate Jeffrey Michael Skelly says.

The letter was sent to county election and city officials.

Elections officials confirmed Wednesday afternoon that they were communicating with the city’s attorney and clerk to investigate the claims made in the letter. They said they did not know how long it would take to finish the review.

The issue at hand is whether or not a seat left vacant following the resignation of councilor Shawn Shaver, which was filled with the interim appointment of Michael Powers, was handled properly during the June primary election or on the ballot for the upcoming general election.

Powers was appointed to fill Shaver’s seat until the next election, which will occur in November.

However, because there are only two years left in the term filled by Powers, rather than a full term, his seat was handled differently from the other three incumbents for both the primary and the upcoming election.

In June four candidates competed for three ballot spots for the council in a Republican primary. Rishe and Skelly say that Powers should have had to compete in the primary as well and that his seat should have been up for grabs. They also believe his seat should be up for grabs in November. Prior to the primary, Republican Commissioner Tom Nichols explained that other Republicans could have run against Powers in the primary, but that they would be running separately from the three full-term seats.

“There are presently four vacant seats to be filled on Council. However, the Board of Elections erred not only in the primary for these four seats, but also in how they set up the ballot before the primary and for the fall election. The Board set up a competitive race for three of the seats, but also set up a separate column for a seat where an appointment by Council had been made due to vacancy. This is in error and does not comply with the Charter,” the letter says.

“As the ballot is presently set up only three of the four candidates have to compete against each other in the general election. The fourth candidate appears in a separate column for a ‘special’ seat. Due to this error, the voters can only vote for someone for that one seat. This is wrong and does not follow the law, as this candidate does not have to compete with the other candidates for the four seats,” the letter said.

Skelly and Rishe further argue that Powers should not be on the ballot in November at all. Instead they say the ballot should include the only the Republicans who competed in the primary. Those candidates are David Price, Steven Fisher, William Dillabough and Justin Jones, who was knocked out of the general election when he lost the primary in June.

“It is, therefore, our opinion that the four Republican candidates who competed in the primary are the only four valid candidates in the fall election on the Republican ticket and one candidate on the Democratic ticket. It is also our opinion that the general election ballot needs to be changed so voters can vote for candidates for all four seats,” he said.

Skelly and Rishe are running a write in campaign for mayor and councilor respectively.

It remains unclear if the primary and the November ballot were handled properly. Elections officials said they were unsure how long it would take to sort out the claim.