MAYVILLE – The Chautauqua County Election Commissioners are dealing with an unprecedented level of illegal electioneering which could lead to legal charges, according to Commissioner Norm Green.
“It’s not fraud. We know exactly what’s going on. Its illegal electioneering,” Green told WNYNewsNow. He said at least one case has been sent to the Erie County District Attorney’s office. But his Republican counterpart, Brian Abram, said that he is not familiar with that happening.
“That is news to me. There’s been no outside communication as far as I know from the Board of Elections,” Abram said. “We haven’t pursued any avenue at this point. We are investigating it at this time and we’re taking in as much information as we possibly can so, is there a review of the situation? Absolutely yes.”
Abram went on to explain that, “We’re interested in hearing anybody’s situation, thier facts or anything of that nature. But at this point… we are gathering information,” he said.
Green called this election’s illegalities the worst he has ever seen in his tenure as election commissioner.
“I’ve never had this, and I guess it’s the times. It’s the way things are now, it’s brutal out there,” he said.
Among the cases being looked into is one in which people falsely represented themselves as members of the county Republican committee.
“These people went up there and injected themselves, touched ballots. We have a serious issue going on,” Green said. He explained that this happened in Lakewood and the Town of Busti. The law calls for the board of elections to send a bipartisan mix of Democrats and Republicans to help people vote.
Political mailings were distributed in Jamestown by an “independent expenditure committee” which failed to register. This case is on the docket to be forwarded to Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson.
“It didn’t stop this year. We had just a series of groups out there that were doing things,” he said. Not identifying one’s self in political activity violates election laws.
“We had somebody sending out letters opposing one candidate and, you know that’s not an unusual thing. It’s not legal. If you’re going to insert yourself in politics you have to identify yourself,” Green said. “New York State election law doesn’t allow people to just go out and drag someone’s name through the mud without identifying that you’re spending money in politics to elect or not elect someone.”
Green said the situations in Jamestown and Lakewood “were probably the most egregious situations that I’ve had in my time as election commissioner.”
A letter was sent out by a group calling themselves Better Jamestown, Green said. He said the group did mailings and had a website and were on Face Book but never identified themselves.
“We’d hope those people would come forward, we asked them to come forward and just get registered. And now we’re going to have to spend time after the election pursuing the true parties that were involved in that,” he said. He also said that a group entered a nursing home and identified themselves as associated with Abram but were not. That case will also be forwarded to the district attorney, he said.
Another case involves an unnamed public official allegedly filing a photocopied nomination form. That has already been passed on to legal authorities, according to Green.
“We’ve never had these secret people who weren’t reporting. We never had people filing photocopied petitions attempting to make them seem as if they’re true petitions. We’ve never had that. That’s like a first,” he said.
The political climate and political passions make the job something different. Green explained this way:
“It’s becoming a full-time job just to babysit people who’ve gotten so crazy about politics.”
Abram explained that it is illegal to politic within 100 feet of a polling site.
“We mark the door and make sure that if you are going to provide information or do anything of that nature you have to stay at least 100 feet away from the poll site. If you’re entering a poll site and somebody wants to hand you some sort of literature, they can, but they have to be at least 100 feet away from the opening of the site where you go in,” he said.
The situation is neither rare nor common, according to Abram.
“I’m not going to say (it’s) common, but it isn’t uncommon,” he said. “A lot of times people get over zealous and put literature either inside a poll site or definitely within the 100-foot marker.”
Drivers have even been asked to move their cars away from polling sites if the car had a political sign or bumper sticker, Abram said.
“Does it happen, yes. Do we address it, yes. We make sure that we find the complaint, if it’s a valid complaint we basically resolve it as quickly as possible,” he explained.
These complaints, valid or otherwise, are not a so-called October Surprise.
“Normally an October surprise is rare and it usually is something that doesn’t exist in the land of the board of elections,” he said.
Usually, Abram said, people do not know the election laws or misunderstand the concept of limitations. The board of elections and the commissioners work to make sure voters can enter or exit a polling place without being electioneered based on the law, he said.
“There’s nothing that we’re doing that we wouldn’t normally do anytime as far as we get a lot of calls,” Abram said. “We make sure that, obviously, we investigate and act quickly to resolve anything. In a general sense, we field the issue and if it’s in our jurisdiction, we’ll react.”