A series of media gaffes over the past five days has prompted Taghkanic residents to wonder: Why does the Register-Star seem to want a Republican candidate to be elected to the Town Board so badly?
On Saturday, an article in the paper by Katie Kocijanski inexplicably reported that Republican Carolyn Sammons was running unopposed for the Town Board seat vacated by Deborah Gilbert’s resignation.
But in fact, Sammons had an opponent: independent Linda Swartz, who was endorsed by the Democrats.
The Reg-Star had every reason to know that its “unopposed” claim was completely untrue. On July 17th, it had reported that “Taghkanic Democrats nominated retired New York State Department of Transportation official Linda Swartz to seek the Town Board seat that is up for election Nov. 4.”
Moreover, the Columbia County Board of Elections ran ads on that same day (as well as the Saturday before) which listed both Swartz and Sammons as candidates. The “unopposed” article appeared on page A11; the ad listing two candidates appeared on A9.
Howls of protest from Taghkanic readers forced the Register to run a corrective article which admitted that the paper “erroneously reported Saturday that Republican incumbent Carolyn Sammons was running unopposed for a seat on the Taghkanic Town Board,” followed by profiles of both Swartz and Sammons.
One would think that would have been the end of it. If anything, one might expect such a glaring mistake—assuming it were an innocent one—to lead to an increased sensitivity about the remaining coverage.
Ah, but no.
On Tuesday night, the Register-Star posted a video of managing editor Mary Dempsey reading results from around the County. Dempsey reported incorrect numbers indicating that Sammons had prevailed by some 79 votes.
In fact, Sammons was only ahead by 9, not 79—a major difference, since Taghkanic races for a long time now have been decided by absentee votes, which are not counted until several weeks after the election.
Almost every two years, there seems to be a hotly-contested absentee count for the Town. In recent memory, there was a bitter recount and protracted court cases related to absentees in Taghkanic which could have decided the Murphy/Tedisco Congressional race, which made Statewide news.
As reported here on Election night, a source present at the polls was certain that the Register’s numbers were incorrect, since they included more total votes than the number of people who turned out at the polls that day. A simple call to the Board of Elections by this site quickly verified that the gap was only 9 votes.
Moreover, the same Taghkanic source indicated there were roughly 119 absentee ballots pending in the Town. Democratic operatives estimated that these would break heavily for Swartz. If correct, Swartz would pick up about 39 votes, and eventually win by about 30.
Anyone familiar with local elections going back as far as 2005 would know that such is often the pattern in Taghkanic: The Republican runs narrowly ahead on Election Day, and the gap is significantly narrowed or trumped by the Democratic nominee’s absentee supporters.
Sometime early on Wednesday morning, Dempsey posted a second video with the correct numbers from the machines, but without any mention of the large number of absentees pending.
And then came the third blunder: The Register ran yet another Kocijanski article on Wednesday morning, with a headline claiming that Swartz “fell” to Sammons. The body of her article stated confidently that “Taghkanic residents will continue to have Carolyn Sammons on their Town Board.”
But as noted above, anyone familiar with Taghkanic—or just familiar with the fact that a nine-vote lead anywhere can easily be the erased by absentees—would know that the race remains too close to call.
Again, this prompted justified howls of outrage from the voting public. And so today, the Register-Star had to backtrack yet again, posting a corrective article whose title admits that “Absentee ballots could decide town board race.”
Why this should be so hard for the Register is anybody’s guess. The question now is: Will the paper’s coverage of the absentee count further extend this streak of unforced errors, or will the sorry experience result in greater care being taken from now on?
[NOTE: Most of the above mistakes since have been scrubbed entirely or edited after the fact to minimize their egregiousness.]