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Allegations of absentee ballot fraud are under investigation in Rensselaer County

Nov 08, 2021 1:45 pm

Brendan J. Lyons and Rebekah F. Ward report in the Times Union that the State Police are investigating allegations of widespread absentee-ballot fraud in Rensselaer County in this fall's elections. Several election contests in the city of Rensselaer remain undecided could be affected by the investigation. There were a high number of absentee ballots issued to political operatives and campaign volunteers on behalf of voters who authorized the individuals to handle their ballot in the county, and operatives from both the Republican and Democratic parties are pointing fingers. In the city of Rensselaer, Republican incumbent Mayor Michael E. Stammel and Democratic challenger, former Mayor Richard J. Mooney, are separated by a handful of votes, so the outcome hinges on the absentee votes. A criminal complaint filed by Todd Rutecki, a campaign volunteer for the Democrat Mooney has sparked the investigation. Shawn Redden, a local mason, claims he never authorized anyone to apply for an absentee ballot on his behalf. But public records show an absentee ballot application allegedly signed by Redden was time-stamped at the county Board of Elections on Oct. 21. That application gave Teresa Merriman authorization to pick up a blank ballot for Redden. She is a clerk on the county legislative staff where Stammel, the Republican candidate, also serves as chairman of the Legislature. Merriman was registered to pick up 45 ballots on behalf of Rensselaer voters under name variations including "Teresa Merriman," "Terri Merriman" and "Terri Mahar." Merriman did not say exactly why she used so many different names on the applications. "I am a lifelong resident of Rensselaer and some residents know me by my married name of Merriman and some know me by my maiden name of Mahar," she said in a statement. "I have worked on campaigns for two decades and have always conducted myself honestly and ethically." Ed McDonough, the Democratic elections commissioner in Rensselaer County, said about 66 absentee ballots were handled on behalf of about 90 residents of an elderly care residence in north Troy, but he claims some of those residents felt pressured to sign the absentee ballot applications. "We started getting phone calls from people, more so friends of residents, who were reaching out on their behalf because the residents were feeling intimidated by (the candidate) to actually get the ballot and give it to (the person)," McDonough said. "I reached out to the state Board of Elections and I said I had spoken to three different people; however, of the three people, none of them were willing to file a complaint." Rich Crist, a Republican political operative in Rensselaer County, said the Republican Party focused on getting as many absentee ballots as possible. "This is part of our overall campaign effort, where our candidates knocked on thousands of doors, made many calls and-or sent messages to reach out to voters, and made a significant effort to get voters to the polls or have their votes registered, recognizing the pandemic might cause some to be hesitant and that rules and laws had been changed to accommodate those concerns," Crist said. Republicans are also questioning an absentee ballot submitted by Mooney's brother, John on behalf of a 46-year-old Rensselaer man who has been hospitalized for COVID-19 and was on a ventilator when he would have signed the application on Oct. 25. Beau Duffy, a spokesperson for the State Police, on Nov. 5 confirmed that their agency is "investigating a ballot fraud complaint involving the election in the city of Rensselaer. (I) can't go into further detail since the investigation is open." Read more about this story in the Times Union.

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