Court documents filed last week in Rensselaer County, and first reported by the Albany-Times Union, challenge a group of absentee ballots, submitted in the primary for the Working Families Party (WFP), a left-leaning, labor-backed third party in New York, in several county electoral contests. In the legal filing, several voters attest that they never filled out the absentee ballots that bear their signatures. The filing was made under the name of Christian Lambertsen, a candidate for county legislator who was running in the WFP primary, held September 15.
Here's the scam that's being alleged in Lambertsen's filing, which was examined by TPMmuckraker:
Certain local Democratic officials named in the filings in the city of Troy went to the homes of voters who are registered to vote in the WFP primary, and told them that they could do so without having to show up on Election Day, simply by signing a form. Around 30 voters appear to have signed the form, which in fact requested an absentee ballot, and included a fake reason, apparently written by the Democratic officials, as to why the voter in question couldn't vote in person. The form also specified in many cases that the ballot be sent care of the Democratic official -- something the law allows for, in order to make absentee voting easier. After receiving the ballots in the mail, the Democratic officials allegedly filled them out and mailed them in, forging the voters' signatures.
Interviews by the Times-Union with several of the voters whose names were said to be forged offer more detail on how the process worked:
Victor Gonzalez, a resident of Griswold Heights, told the Times Union he was visited several weeks ago by [Troy Housing authority employee Anthony] Defiglio and another man who asked him to sign an absentee ballot application. Gonzalez is registered on the WFP line. But Gonzalez, like many other people interviewed, never saw, signed or submitted the absentee ballot later filed at the Board of Elections under his name.
Also, someone else wrote on the Gonzalez's ballot application that he couldn't vote in person because of a work conflict.
''I've been out of work for about six to eight months. I've been laid off and looking for work,'' he said.
Numerous other voters have told similar stories, in interviews with the paper or in signed affidavits that were part of the court filing. It's not clear whether the allegedly fraudulent ballots could have affected the results of any of the contests. There are numerous Democrats -- and a few WFP members -- whose names appear to have been listed as being authorized to receive the ballots, and who are therefore accused of the fraud, but Defiglio's name appears to occur the most.
So why would Democrats intervene in a Working Families Party primary? The WFP has established a profile in New York politics in large part by having Democratic candidates run on its line, which can give the candidate a few extra votes on election day. For instance, when Hillary Clinton was re-elected to the Senate in 2006, nearly 5 percent of her votes came from the WFP line (pdf). The contested ballots are still sealed, so we don't know who they were cast for. But the court filing implies that they may have been cast in favor of certain Democratic candidates for various local offices, who were also seeking to capture the WFP nomination and thereby boost their chances in the general election.
But as if this story weren't already complicated enough, those seeking to expose the alleged fraud appear to be playing their own political game.
Lambertsen hardly fits the profile of a Working Families Party activist. A 30-year member of the Troy Police Department, in 2007 he led the city's Kiwanis Club Prayer Breakfast. And in a phone interview with TPMmuckraker, Lambertsen admitted he was unaware of the identities of the other candidates in his race, and said that he had "thrown his hat in the ring" after being approached by Robert Mirch, a local Conservative Party public official and activist.
According to observers of the county's byzantine politics, Mirch has a reputation for running frivolous candidates in low turnout Working Families Party primaries, in order to deny the Democratic Party the WFP line. Last year, he was suspected of running a 23-year old pizza delivery boy as a WFP candidate for mayor, Troy city council, and state senate. Lambertsen appears to be another such mischief candidate.
And it was Mirch who led the investigation into alleged vote fraud that produced last week's the court filings. According to an affidavit signed by Mirch and attached as part of the filing, he recently become aware of an unusually large number of absentee ballots arriving at the Board of Elections on the last day they were eligible. Mirch then reportedly hired two private investigators, who spent the last two weeks interviewing voters and taking sworn statements.
As for the Working Families Party itself, Karen Scharff, a local WFP official told TPMmuckraker in a statement:
It's extremely troubling that local Democrats in Troy appear to have committed fraud in an attempt to win a primary fight with Troy Republicans for our ballot line. We call on the District Attorney to investigate this matter immediately and prosecute any acts of voter fraud to the fullest extent of the law.
A special prosecutor was expected to be appointed by the county today to probe the matter.