December 27, 2011
New York

Group challenges Cape Vincent vote

McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Brian Amaral Watertown Daily Times, N.Y., 24 December 2011

Ethics charges continue to fly, a sign that the Nov. 8 election did not close the rift between the two sides of the wind-power debate.

The group Citizens for Fair Government, some of whose members want to see wind power developed in town, are accusing their opponents of illegal and unethical tactics to help throw the Nov. 8 election to opponents of wind-power projects – after being accused themselves of similar unethical and illegal maneuvers. They have mailed complaints to about half a dozen local officials and the state attorney general, who forwarded the complaint to the state Board of Elections.

At issue was the registration drive that opponents of proposed turbine projects in Cape Vincent organized, targeting summer residents. Those who voted via absentee – more likely to be seasonal residents – broke heavily for candidates including Urban C. Hirschey, John L. Byrne III and Clifford P. Schneider, who oppose the proposed turbine projects. And the Citizens for Fair Government group believes that many of those voters may not have met legal requirements to vote in the town because, the group alleges, they didn’t live there long enough or didn’t live there at all.

“Some of them are legal to vote,” said Conservative Party candidate Harvey J. White, who lost his bid for town supervisor to Mr. Hirschey, a Republican. “Some of them stay here all summer. But there’s a lot of them – I don’t know if it’s the majority – that spend maybe a week here.”

Mr. Schneider, who won a seat on Town Council and will be sworn in on Jan. 5, said that wasn’t true. The voter registration drive made every effort to follow the letter and spirit of the law, he said.

“We went through all that stuff and made sure and were careful,” Mr. Schneider said. “We were very careful and honest about it. Of course, they can ask for that kind of review.”

Mr. Hirschey is on vacation and could not be reached. Mr. Byrne, a Republican who won a seat on Town Council, declined to comment.

To vote in a town, a person must live there for 30 days of the year, but it doesn’t have to immediately precede the election, said Sean M. Hennessey, the Democratic election commissioner in Jefferson County.

Mr. Hennessey said the county Board of Elections was informed of the complaint, but can only investigate specific residency claims.

“As it stands to us today, no one has challenged any voter,” Mr. Hennessey said. “Not a single voter has been challenged in the town of Cape Vincent.”

The vote total was so lopsided that Mr. Hirschey had won the race against Mr. White even before absentee ballots were counted, so any potential vote challenge is unlikely to alter election night results.

This is not the first time that the 2011 election has been called into question.

Supporters of wind power on Town Council passed a resolution that would have required voters at the polls to show a driver’s license with a valid Cape Vincent address, a move that went against state election law. It was later retracted amid accusations of voter intimidation.

Opponents of wind-power projects in Cape Vincent also have accused their opponents of being conflicted pawns of the wind industry because of leases they have signed with energy companies.

Cape Vincent has become the north country hub of ethics accusations.

In a Times story Wednesday about the attorney general’s efforts at making sure towns can deal with their own ethics complaints, outgoing Democratic Town Council member Donald J. Mason said he never voted on a wind issue. Doing so would have been a conflict of interest, because of leases that he holds with wind-power companies.

Anti-wind power blogs were quick to jump on the assertion, posting a video Friday that appeared to show Mr. Mason voting on a wind zoning law.

“Maybe I did,” Mr. Mason said.”I don’t know. I vote on a lot of things.”

Mr. Mason said lawyers with whom he spoke, whose names he couldn’t immediately recall, told him that voting on a wind zoning law was not a conflict of interest, “because that’s not telling the companies they can bring turbines to town. It’s just a law saying that they can do it. It doesn’t mean they will do it. That’s the way I was explained it.”

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