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Pending issues stymie election Ballots go uncounted, challenges unresolved

Judith S. Einach has spent the summer debating in forums, raising money and collecting signatures to qualify for an independent mayoral bid.

Under normal circumstances, the community activist hoping to run on the Green Party line would have known by now whether her petitions were valid and whether she could be viewed as a credible candidate.

But the county Board of Elections has not ruled on challenges to the signatures on her designating petitions, short-circuiting her ability to build a campaign fund because no one knows if she even will qualify.

Other uncertainties cloud the upcoming election.

While Kevin J. Helfer, a Republican, is confident he won the Conservative Party's line via write-in vote in Tuesday's primary election, nothing has been declared official because the write-in votes have not been counted.

Charles J. Flynn also says he believes he defeated Byron W. Brown, a Democrat, in the Independence Party's primary by 10 votes, but that, too, remains unofficial.

The paper ballots used in about 25 percent of the county, in fact, could remain uncounted until Oct. 10, while challenges to the independent petitions of Einach and another candidate lie unattended.

The county Board of Elections' inability to meet routine election requirements has prompted political activist Leonard A. Roberto to file a formal complaint with the state Board of Elections, claiming violations of election law and hinting at criminal action.

"Their intent is to frustrate the election process," said Roberto, a longtime board critic and founder of a political group called Primary Challenge. "It just makes the election process look tainted."

Einach also is angry.

"It's clearly being used against me to keep me from raising money and running a credible campaign," she said. "It's very disrespectful to a candidate."

Roberto called for removing Elections Commissioners Ralph M. Mohr, a Republican, and Dennis E. Ward, a Democrat, hinting they have committed felonies in failing to abide by the law.

Elections officials in both Albany and Buffalo acknowledge that county elections officials have not fulfilled their duties this campaign season. Under normal circumstances, they would have settled all the questions and even provided a Web site on Primary Night to provide timely results.

But they also maintain that, with inadequate funding by the county, they had little choice.

Ward conceded that the board has failed to perform its mission.

"When those objections [to Einach's petitions] were filed, we should have been able to assign a couple sets of workers and figure it out," he said. "But which would you rather have? Setting up as many machines as we could and getting the votes in nursing homes, or having the workers on the objections? We had to prioritize."

Ward bristles at County Executive Joel A. Giambra's suggestions of a "manufactured crisis," complaining that all legal requirements will be met even if that takes longer than usual. Even under normal circumstances, election results remain unofficial until certified 25 days after the vote, he said, and he challenges critics to find money to allow it to operate any differently.

"We chose security, reliability and getting accurate and fair results," he said.

Lee Daghlian, spokesman for the state board, calls Erie County's delays and irregularities an "unprecedented situation." The law says even the 85,000 paper ballots should have been counted Tuesday, he points out.

"They obviously violated the part of the law that says they should count at the polling place," he said, "but they felt they had good reason to do that.

"I think they have latitude on how to do it," he added. "Circumstances like this are akin to a disaster. But unofficially, I think they've made prudent decisions."

Daghlian also said he expects all of the questions to be resolved by Oct. 10, the legal deadline.

Einach, meanwhile, says she understands the Board of Elections faces unusual circumstances this year and says she is "tolerant" of the situation. But that doesn't help her cause as she tries to make her case against major party candidates and offer another choice.

"The whole thing is out of proportion," she said. "And right now I'm trapped in it."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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