CAPE VINCENT – It’s not the first time they’ve felt discriminated against.
Seasonal town residents are irate their absentee ballots are disputed in the race for the 116th Assembly District seat by incumbent Democrat Addie J. Russell – just a year after their votes were unsuccessfully disputed in races for town board seats.
Mary C. Grogan, who lives most of the year in the Southern Tier village of Johnson City and visits her town residence on County Route 7 during the summer, is among a group of 149 seasonal Cape Vincent residents whose ballots are being contested in the Assembly race, which Republican challenger John L. Byrne III tentatively leads over Mrs. Russell by a 42-vote margin. Those ballots are among 240 ballots in Jefferson County objected to by attorneys of both candidates. On Monday, the Jefferson County Board of Elections will start counting 991 absentee ballots in St. Lawrence County.
Ms. Grogan, a registered Republican, said she counts herself among the “anti-wind” faction of seasonal residents who’ve opted to vote in Cape Vincent instead of their hometowns. The 64-year-old voted for Mr. Byrne, a Cape Vincent town councilman who was ahead of Mrs. Russell, Theresa, by 117 votes on election night until absentee votes were counted in Jefferson County last week. The pool of absentee ballots in Cape Vincent could be challenged in court by the Democrats to determine who wins race, depending on the outcome of absentee ballots in St. Lawrence County.
“It infuriates me, because I pay the same bills that full-time residents do and feel that I have every right to vote,” said Ms. Grogan, who bought her Cape Vincent property in 1998. “I think other (seasonal residents) voted the same way I did because we’re against wind power and just want to have a place to go during the summer that’s relaxing. But the (Democrats) have made it so difficult, and I just feel I’ve been discriminated against.”
Mrs. Grogan also voted for Republican Michelle T. Oswald in the race for a Cape Vincent Town Council seat. Conservative Marty T. Mason defeated Mrs. Oswald 498-392 on election night, but that outcome could conceivably change because the margin is within the range of the 149 contested absentee votes.
RIGHTS ‘TRAMPLED UPON’
Registered Republicans Nicholas J. and Lynn D. Benvenuto, who live in Rochester and have owned a seasonal residence on Tibbets Point Road in Cape Vincent since 1979, said Saturday that they’ve voted in the town with absentee ballots since 2009 – the year Urban C. Hirschey was elected supervisor. Their absentee ballots were disputed last year by the Cape Vincent Democrats and this year by Mrs. Russell. The couple, who reside in the town Mary through October, said they find the trend disconcerting.
“The point is not really who we voted for, but that our civil liberties are being trampled upon by people who look to represent us in the future,” said Mr. Benvenuto, who declined to name whom he voted for when asked. “Why would we want to be represented by people who think our votes should be discounted? … I’m not angry, but I’m disappointed the court system is being tested once again for personal gain.”
Mr. Benvenuto also underscored the fact that Mrs. Russell’s Albany elections attorney, Frank G. Hoare, had disputed absentee ballots in 2013 on behalf of Democrats in town board races. After the election, the Democrats initially filed to challenge 88 absentee ballots in state Supreme Court. But they ultimately backed down from that effort after it was concluded most of the votes from seasonal residents would probably be for Republicans, who opposed the Cape Vincent Wind Farm project planned by BP Wind Energy. The wind developer abandoned its project in February. Mrs. Russell’s “attorney is generating fees by taking a case that he saw last time as invalid and without merit,” Mr. Benvenuto contended. “The fact that he’s taken up the case again for monetary gain is no surprise.”
For her part, Mrs. Benvenuto said the effort to contest absentee votes is “a desperate move made by desperate individuals. They’re desperate, so they have to try something in the legal system. This is their best shot.”
The absentee votes of Mr. Benvenuto’s cousin and his wife, Peter P. and Marcy H. Benvenuto, are also under dispute. The couple, who also live most of the year in Rochester, own a seasonal residence on County Route 6 in the town.
Stephen W. and Harriett M. Sabo and their son, Stephan J., spend part the summer at their cottage on Carelton Island the rest of the year in New Philadelphia, Ohio. Mrs. Sabo said Saturday that her husband and son both voted absentee for Mr. Byrne and Mrs. Oswald. After voting in Cape Vincent last year, she decided this year to register to vote in Ohio.
Mrs. Sabo, a Watertown native who has registered to vote in Cape Vincent for previous elections, said her husband and son have felt discriminated against by ballot dispute in the Assembly race. “They both tried to call the Board of Elections to find out why their votes weren’t counted,” she said. “They feel that John Byrne has the best interest of the seasonal people and Cape Vincent as a whole.”
The Watertown native, whose husband was not available Saturday for comment, said the family spends May and June at their cottage on Carelton Island. She said taxes the couple pays for the property, which has 1,500 feet of waterfront area, are greater than what they pay in Ohio “A huge amount of money goes into that cottage, but we don’t have a problem paying taxes that we do pay,” Mrs. Sabo said.
CASH FOR COURT
Plenty of Cape Vincent residents would be willing to support Mr. Byrne financially if absentee ballots are challenged in court by the Democrats, according to Richard H. MacSherry, a registered Republican who lives year-round at a waterfront home on Tibbets Point Road in the town. He said several of his neighbors are seasonal residents whose absentee votes are being disputed.
“Whatever resources we have to muster, we’re going to meet this head on. If there were less than 50 people who would be willing to financially give support to this cause I would be surprised,” said Mr. MacSherry, a town resident for eight years. “Mr. Byrne has the right for votes to be counted, whether they were cast for him or Mr. Russell. And this is also about voter rights. This is a sad, pathetic effort to intimidate people not to vote here. It is a right for people who are potentially being disenfranchised to have their votes counted.”