Counting all the valid votes in an election is a good thing, right? Of course it is.
That’s the rationale three commissioners on the Saratoga Springs City Council are giving for their decision to hire an election lawyer to oversee the process of counting absentee ballots in the hotly contested charter change vote.
In a special council meeting on Monday, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan defended the decision on the basis that proponents of the charter change are hiring a lawyer to oversee the process. Accounts Commissioner John Franck previously told the Times Union that he anticipates the attorney working on behalf of charter change advocates would try to get votes disqualified.
But using public funds for this purpose is essentially unheard of in New York. Election lawyers to oversee ballot counts are hired by candidates or issue activists, not by a local government.
“This is among the most categorically outrageous and inappropriate uses of public money I have ever seen and I work in Albany,” tweeted Ken Giardin, a policy analyst with the Empire Center for Policy, an independent think tank.
Advocates against charter change (including Madigan, Franck and Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco) could hire their own attorney using private funds.
So why are Frank and Madigan leading this charge? They need every paper ballot counted to overcome the 48-vote lead pro-charter change advocates had after Election Day. It has been reported that the returned absentee ballots (more than 510) lean Republican, which anecdotally should benefit opponents to the charter change.
Franck said on Monday that his opposition to the charter change was “immaterial,” but it’s hard to imagine he would take this position if his side was leading in the vote.
This was a guest post by David Lombardo, who has covered multiple absentee ballot counts as a reporter and oversaw the absentee ballot count for Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara in 2014.