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Tuesday's Election Day

Tuesday's election day …so don’t forget to vote. Here are some items to consider between now and then:

• Last Friday, the Buffalo News released its endorsements for Erie County Legislature in the seven races in which there are major contests. They led off with the Buffalo-based District 1, in which the News endorsed the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, political newcomer Tim Hogues over incumbent Barbara Miller-Williams, who is running on an independent line. For some reason, the News failed to mention that there is a third candidate in the race, BMHA resident commissioner Joe Mascia, a Democrat running on the Conservative Party line. I don’t imagine that the News would have endorsed Mascia, but no mention at all? Mascia says he contacted the News on more than one occasion asking if he should submit a letter or schedule an interview to be considered for the paper’s endorsement but received no response to his inquiries. His campaign manager, Terry Robinson, has asked the News to review its endorsement.

The District 1 race is potentially important to the outcome of the race for Erie County executive: To beat incumbent Republican Chris Collins, Democrat Mark Poloncarz needs significant voter turnout in the city. The District 1 race is one of two active races in the city (the other is for city court judges), and all three candidates are Democrats.

It is rumored that Grassroots, the political club to which both Miller-Williams and Mayor Byron Brown belong, has stopped working on behalf of Miller-Williams’s re-election. If that’s true, it makes some sense: Brown, a Democrat, is allied with the Republican Collins; Brown has refused to endorse Poloncarz but promised he would not work actively against him. Brown has appeared at announcements and ribbon-cuttings with Collins as November 8 approaches, and perhaps he’s decided a to engage in a little voter suppression on Collins’s behalf, too: Dropping the cause of Miller-Williams might serve to keep some District 1 Democrats at home—an advantage for Collins.

• There are several other races in which turnout will affect not only the candidates in those races but the outcome of the contest between Collins and Poloncarz. In West Seneca, two Democrats face off for supervisor: Sheila Meegan has the Democratic, Working Families, and Independence party lines, and incumbent Wallace Piotrowski has the Republican and Conservative party lines. It’s a bitter race.

In Lackawanna, there are two Democrats running: Geoffrey Szymanski won the primary by a hair, but his opponent, Dion Watkins, is waging a write-in campaign. The Republican is Patrick McCusker.

Up in the Tonawandas, the District 4 Erie County Legislature race pits Jeremy Zellner, a first-time candidate, against a popular one-term Republican incumbent, Kevin Hardwick. Zellner until recently served as the Erie County Democratic Committee’s executive director, and he enjoys tremendous logistical support: Even if he doesn’t win, he’ll draw out plenty of Democrats to support him—and they’ll vote for Poloncarz, too.

• The Democratic candidate for county clerk, Maria Whyte, spent nearly $118,000 in the first three weeks of October. Her opponent, Republican Chris Jacobs, has spent $177,000. (So far, the wealthy Jacobs has lent his campaign $105,000.)

Most of the expenditures for both candidates has been for TV ads. In one, Jacobs touts his creation of a nonprofit called the Bison Fund, which provides scholarships to needy students so they can attend private schools. Almost nowhere does Jacobs brag about his current elected office, as an at-large member of the Buffalo Public Schools—presumably, the institution from which the Bison Fund is intended to rescue it beneficiaries.

• The other active race in the City of Buffalo, for city court judges, pits four incumbents (Susan Eagan, Robert Russell, Joseph Fiorella, and David Manz) against two challengers (Diane Wray and Gillian Brown). Wray knocked Manz off the Democratic line in September’s primary, and that spells trouble for Manz; though he still has the Republican, Conservative, and Independence party lines, those aren’t worth much in the city. Brown was disqualified from the Democratic primary but held on to the Working Families Party line—better than Manz’s lines but not as helpful as the Democratic line.

• Last week, word leaked that the person of interest in the Erie County Board of Elections ballot tampering scandal is a Democrat who works at the BOE named Mark Galvin, who has lawyered up.

Whether Galvin is guilty or not, the case is close to unprosecutable. First, if Galvin’s fingerprints are on a ballot pre-marked for Collins that was returned to the BOE because of a bad address, that proves nothing: It’s his job to handle the ballots and the envelopes.

Second, anyone who wanted to try Galvin or anybody else for tampering with ballots would have to overcome a difficult chain of custody issue: Within the offices of the BOE, the handling of ballots always occurs in the presence of at least one Democratic and one Republican employee. That’s how it works when the absentee ballots are stuffed into addressed envelopes.

But before the ballots are stuffed into the envelopes, they are sent outside the BOE to a private firm—in this case, Elma Printing on Clinton Street—to be folded by a machine. There is no team of Republicans and Democrats present to supervise that process, according to the BOE: The ballots are sent out to be folded and then returned to the BOE, where employees proceed to stuff them in envelopes.

So the ballots are in private hands, unmonitored, for a period of time.

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