Support grows for Cuomo to remove election officials over Tenney-Brindisi snafu

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address virtually from The War Room at the state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, Pool) | Hans Pennink/AP Photo

ALBANY, N.Y. — It’s probably fair to say that attempting to throw out hundreds of legitimate ballots, blocking thousands of people who registered to vote from actually voting, and holding up the results of a Congressional race until February might be cause for an election official’s dismissal.

And that’s what multiple officials are calling for in the aftermath of the messy race between former Rep. Anthony Brindisi and Rep.-elect Claudia Tenney in New York’s 22nd congressional district, which was settled in Tenney’s favor several days ago. The officials are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to remove the commissioners of the Board of Elections in upstate Oneida County. The last time something of that magnitude happened in New York, Franklin Roosevelt was governor.

Those commissioners, according to legal proceedings over the ballot count, made numerous serious mistakes that disenfranchised a large swath of the electorate.

The mistakes included, but were far from limited to, a failure to process 2,418 of the 3,000 registration forms the county board received after hopeful voters submitted those forms to the Department of Motor Vehicles. About 1,500 voters who subsequently did not show up in the poll books but submitted affidavit ballots saying this was a mistake had their ballots unceremoniously rejected.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, a Republican who has endorsed the Democrat Cuomo in the past, wrote to the governor on Tuesday asking him to remove the board’s commissioners.

“The finding of violations of statutory provisions relating to the canvassing process is of great concern to me, however, it is the disenfranchisement of the citizens of Oneida County which compels me to write to you and request this drastic step,” he wrote.

At a state Board of Elections meeting on Wednesday, it emerged that the future of the Oneida officials came up during an executive session on Monday, when state commissioners decided to give their county counterparts “one week to make a decision regarding their status.”

If nothing changes by next Monday, Democratic board chair Doug Kellner said the state board will consider asking the governor “to formally remove the commissioners.”

“The evidence is overwhelming on why the commissioners should be removed,” Kellner said. The state board should gather this evidence, he said, but that should be a simple task thanks to the proceedings in state Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte’s courtroom.

Indeed, DelConte did not mince words in a decision last week, finding that “both candidates suffered the effects of systematic violations of state and federal election laws.” But, he noted, it was not his role in a ballot case to “hold public officials accountable for not following the law,” and he pointed to officials such as the governor for playing that role.

A Cuomo staffer said Picente’s letter was being reviewed. A call to the Oneida board was not returned.

Should Cuomo follow through with the requests, it would be an extraordinarily rare use of one of a governor’s most significant powers.

The state constitution lets the governor “remove any elective sheriff, county clerk, district attorney, or register” after a hearing. Requests for him to do so come up every few years, but it’s been quite some time since one of these has been acted on — the most recent such occasion came when FDR ousted Manhattan Sheriff Thomas “Tin Box” Farley in 1932 after Farley failed to fully explain how he was able to make a $360,660.34 deposit while making a $15,000 salary.

State law says that the process for removing an election commissioner is the same as that for removing a sheriff. Kellner said he was unaware of any instances in which a governor has removed a commissioner.

Tenney will take her seat on Thursday.

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