Saturday, December 12, 2009

Committee Takes its Case to Appellate Division

December 12, 2009

The Republican Party has brought a legal challenge against Columbia County voters who voted by Absentee Ballot in the November 2009 General Election.  That suit represents a coordinated campaign to prevent an entire class of voters from exercising their right to vote. 

Evidence that this is a coordinated conspiracy is contained in the June 8, 2009 meeting minutes of the Columbia County Sportsmen’s Federation in which the Chairman of the Columbia County Republican Committee is reported to have said:  “24/7 residents need to get more involved in the political process, stop the “weekenders” from taking over.”
See original document here.

In April 2009, during the count of absentee ballots in the Murphy-Tedisco race, the Republican lawyers challenged ballots in all 10 counties of the 20th Congressional District.  The predominant reason given at that time was “residency”.  Those same lawyers have sharpened their approach.  Again, quoting the Republican County Chair who was interviewed by a local Columbia County newspaper: “We’ve done a great deal more research this time and have targeted individuals.”
See original article here.

Involved in election challenges from Suffolk to St Lawrence counties, it is reasonable to assume that working with their private investigators these attorneys have had the opportunity to compile data on voters from across the state.  They are counsels for election law to the NYS Republican Senate and Assembly committees.  We see this as clearly a state wide assault on voters’ rights funded wholly or in major part by the NYS Republican Committee and major Republican donors.

The Republican attorneys do not deny that the absentee voters they have challenged own a residence in Columbia County.  They stated that in open court.  They requested the court issue subpoenas to require voters to produce over 20 items of personal data such as mortgages, insurances, driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, tax returns, professional licenses, credit cards, leases, deeds, etc to prove they have a residence elsewhere.  In their request for these subpoenas they state: “The nature of the information sought by this subpoena is that relating to your residence address outside Columbia County.” [Documents Requested by Subpoena, submitted to the Court by James Walsh, Esq., 8 Dec 2009]  They justify this demand with the submission of a spreadsheet of information already compiled indicating that a significant invasion of individual privacy irrelevant to voter registration has already been perpetrated.  In their covering brief they state that they “have attached an Excel Spread Sheet to detail the information in a clear, concise way for the court.” [James Walsh, 8 December 2009, Affirmation Supporting Issuance of Subpoenas]  The court denied their request for subpoenas to be issued from the bench perhaps in part because the Appellate Division had agreed to hear the case the prior evening.
To see the outrageous list of documents the Republicans sought to compel voters to produce click here.

Clearly the Republican State Committee has compiled a database of invasive information on voters throughout the State.  This database skirts the edge of violation of privacy rights.  Most significantly, our case demonstrates that its use in voter targeting is already underway. 

If the Republicans are successful in using Columbia County as a precedent in their challenge to law based on their residency objection, then voters across the state could be targeted and perhaps even challenged at the polls.  This tactic was demonstrated in Dutchess County this November when Bard College and Vassar College students were stopped at the polling places by poll watchers and forced to vote by affidavit ballot.
Watch the behavior of the Republican poll watcher for yourself here.
The College immediately brought suit related to this incident and won.  The affidavit ballots were counted but only for the 2009 election.

In the Columbia County case, the Republican lawyers’ brief to the Appellate Division states: “Watchers have the same right to object to ballots at the Board as they have to object to voters in the polling place.” {John Ciampoli, 10 Dec 2009, Brief to Appellate Division}  This is a bold affront to voters.  Awareness of this Republican effort at vote suppression and voter intimidation needs to be broadcast by the New York State Democratic Committee and the Democratic Rural Conference.  Each County needs to inform itself of the challenges that are being faced by Columbia County and take heed that they take necessary precautionary steps.

Please refer to the website www.columbiadems.net for a chronology of this matter along with links to press reports in local media.

Case law has already been established to define the qualifications necessary to vote in an election district.  These findings confirm that the challenge currently being made is a blatant attempt to overturn law by means of litigation.  While the lawyers may have thought that they could easily win their case in Columbia County, we understand its implications having been through it in April 2009.  We are determined to see the case to a successful conclusion.  And we are determined to maintain awareness of this scurrilous attempt at infringing on the constitutional civil liberties of voters.

The hearing is scheduled for 1 PM Wednesday 16 December in Albany.

The Columbia County Democratic Committee is grateful for the help it has received thus far in defending voters’ rights.  We anticipate that our needs will grow as the case continues its progress through the higher courts.  Your continued support is appreciated.

Christopher Nolan
Chair
Columbia County Democratic Committee

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PO Box 507
Ghent, NY 12075