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Nick LaLota

The Town of Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Phil Corso

No clear winner has emerged in the Smithtown Republican primary for town supervisor as a narrow 39-vote margin at the close of polls Sept. 12 left the outcome undecided, pending a count of absentee ballots.

Smithtown Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) holds a razor-thin lead on incumbent town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R), 2,822 votes to 2,783, in the unofficial election results posted Sept. 13 by the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

“By definition, it’s too close to call,” said Nick LaLota, the Republican commissioner for the county board of elections. “The number of paper ballots outstanding exceeds the margin of victory by machine. It is literally too close to call.”

LaLota said the board of elections has received 322 absentee ballots as of Sept. 13. He said he expects the county may still receive a few dozen additional ballots over the next week. Absentee ballots must have been postmarked by Sept. 11 and received by the county by Sept. 19 to be valid.

“I am confident that we will remain victorious once they are opened,” Wehrheim said Wednesday morning.

The councilman said his campaign, along with Smithtown Republican Committee Chairman Bill Ellis, ran an extensive absentee voter outreach campaign leading up to the primary race.

“A lot is going to depend on how the absentee ballots go,” Ellis said in a phone interview. “We worked aggressively and I believe a lot of the absentees we had contact with voted for the entire team.”

LaLota said he anticipates by Sept. 25 the Suffolk County Board of Elections will have all the voting machines and paper ballots to be checked, and will have given sufficient notice to both campaigns in order to begin counting absentee votes.

The process of counting paper ballots involves opening each absentee envelope, allowing the ballot to be reviewed by a board of elections inspector and campaign observers, potentially including attorneys representing the campaigns. If there are any objections to the validity of a ballot it will be recorded.

The final outcome of the primary race may remain unknown until late September.

“With 300-plus ballots, I’d assume it’s going to take a few days,” LaLota said. “Attorneys have been known to gum up the process.”

Vecchio wrote the primary’s outcome was “still questionable” in an email statement, and that he was uncertain about the odds of being declared the Republican candidate after the absentee ballots were counted.

This is not the first time Vecchio has been challenged by his own party in a primary for town supervisor. In 2013, he faced off against former town councilman Robert Creighton (R) and prior to that, Jane Conway in 2005. In both of these primaries, Vecchio had a decisive victory at the polls.

“Against both Jane Conway and Bob Creighton, the results were substantially in Mr. Vecchio’s favor,” Ellis said. “Never has he lost on the [voting] machines to anyone.”

If Wehrheim remains victorious, he will be running for Smithtown town supervisor on the Republican, Conservative and Independent party lines in November.

Wehrheim currently has approximately $59,000 available in his war chest to spend on the general election, according to the 11-day pre-primary financial disclosure report filed with New York State Board of Elections.

“We won’t start campaigning until [the absentee ballots] are opened,” Wehrheim said. “Once they are open and the decision is finalized, then we will begin to carry on for the general election if we are the successful candidate.”

The winner of the Republican town supervisor primary will face off Nov. 7 against Democratic Party candidate William Holst and Kristen Slevin, running under her own None of the Above campaign.

After losing by two votes, newcomer is challenging validity of ballots

Village of Poquott held its election June 18. File photo

t seems the dust hasn’t settled yet after Poquott’s June 20 election for two trustee seats.

While challenger John Richardson emerged as a clear winner for one seat, it was a tight race between newcomer Debbie Stevens and incumbent Jeff Koppelson for the second spot. Stevens recently filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead to review the results.

Debbie Stevens

At the end of election night, Stevens had a slim lead over Koppelson before absentee and 10 contested votes were counted. Official results were delayed and not announced by the village until the next day, after election inspectors retained by the village and certified by the Suffolk County Board of Elections completed the count at Poquott’s Village Hall. Koppelson was declared the winner with 180 votes, while Stevens received 178.

After Stevens challenged the results, the village brought the ballots to the headquarters of the board of elections in Yaphank June 29, where the votes were hand counted by board staff members and certified by  county election commissioners Nick LaLota (R) and  Anita Katz (D).

LaLota said the village clerk handed over the ballots to their bipartisan team, and they hand counted each ballot, and their results were the same as the village’s count. However, the board of elections was not involved in any decisions involving the disputed ballots.

Stevens’ attorney George Vlachos of George C. Vlachos & Associates in Central Islip, said the village was served with a show-cause order last week to appear in court. A hearing will be held in Riverhead July 19.

Vlachos, who was originally retained by Stevens and Richardson to monitor the election, said he and his client have taken issue with the discarding of the rule that voters must be registered 10 days before an election. He said all the votes, no matter when the voter registered, were counted.

Jeff Koppelson

The attorney said he also questions whether the ballots were secured after the polls closed. He said he was on hand at Village Hall until the end of the night June 20, and there were approximately five or six ballots that were mismarked and had to be interpreted as far as what the voters’ intents were. He said he only saw one of those ballots presented to the board of elections. The lawyer said he remembers one ballot the night of June 20 where a voter chose three candidates instead of two. Vlachos said that ballot was not brought to the board.

LaLota said he had heard about the mismarked ballots before the recount, but didn’t see any major issues.

“There were up to two ballots that required a minimal review by the bipartisan team, but they easily came to a conclusion,” he said.

Koppelson declined to comment until after the matter is resolved, and Vlachos requested his client not talk directly to the press.

Vlachos added that many people from the village have offered to pay for his services to get to the bottom of the matter.

“This may just be the tip of the iceberg,” the attorney said. “I’m doing whatever investigation I need to do. I’m not sure what’s going on in Poquott, but I’m going to find out.”