On Thursday, local Republicans sought once again to disenfranchise absentee voters—this time in Ghent. In doing so, the GOP not only tried to revive failed legal arguments of the past, they also raised doubts about their basic sense of decorum.
The days events make you wonder: Do County Republicans need a few cases of gingko biloba to help with their memory problem? And: Does Republican Election Commissioner Jason Nastke need a refresher course in the basic obligations of public servants?
Back in 2010, the Columbia County Republicans were embarrassed in both the court of public opinion and in actual court. Their judicial smackdown came in Taghkanic, when County GOP chair Greg Fingar rehashed a long-settled legal question: Namely, whether people with more than one residence have the right to choose Columbia County as the one place they vote. (Answer: They do.) Well before 2010, courts had repeatedly said everyone can choose where they vote, as long as they have a dwelling there.
The 2010 attempt to re-litigate the matter did not go well for Fingar et al. And the GOP’s loss was doubly embarrassing, considering that the legal rebuke came from a Republican judge, Jonathan Nichols—complete with critical commentaries during the hearings about their attorney, James Walsh.
At that time, as reported by this site, Walsh was “admonished” for “misleadingly reading only a portion of an Election Law statute.” Nichols “twice stated that the Republican position was ‘completely unconvincing.’” And “Nichols expressed frustration that his repeated orders for the Republicans to produce specific objections to voters were repeatedly ignored... In many court observers’ view, the GOP operatives are fortunate not to have been found in contempt.”
Now, according to observers of today’s absentee vote count for two open Town Board seats in Ghent, the GOP is at it again—using the same lawyer, Mr. Walsh. Going into the count, Republican Pete Nelson and Democratic challenger Patti Matheney have leads over Republican Mark Huston and Democrat Koethi Zan, Matheney’s running mate. With well over 150 ballots to count, primarily from Democrats, there appeared a strong chance both Matheney and Zan could prevail—giving the Dems a majority on the five-member Ghent board, along with Mallory Mort.
Within minutes of the count beginning, the GOP’s strategy became clear, according to observers. The Republicans began challenging all ballots originating in New York City, claiming they were “not entitled to vote by absentee.” Citing no specific evidence, the attorneys nevertheless challenged the “qualifications of the voter” and the “veracity” of both the absentee application and the enclosing envelope. By 11 am, 15 such ballots had been set aside pending resolution of the challenges—more than enough to change the outcome of the election. By early afternoon, that number had climbed to nearly 30.
GOP commissioner Jason Nastke—who reportedly was getting up constantly from the table to speak on the phone to an unknown party—did nothing to restrain this childish behavior. And Nastke dutifully upheld the GOP lawyers’ objections to these voters, even though no specifics were provided.