The Erie County Board of Elections has issued mixed rulings regarding two petitions in the upcoming race for the New York State Senate 60th District.
Commissioners Ralph Mohr and Len Lenihan, after reviewing several entries in question, determined that candidate Kevin Stocker is 18 signatures short of the number required to face Republican and Conservative Party-endorsed Chris Jacobs in a primary as a write-in candidate.
"There are a lot of invalidated signatures on that petition," Mohr explained. "The vast majority of them were because Mr. Stocker went to the same people who had already endorsed a candidate and signed a petition for another candidate."
In all, 133 signatures were rejected on Stocker's petition. Upon the conclusion of Monday morning's hearing, his plan was to file court papers to challenge the ruling in court. He claims party bosses are resorting to various tactics to acquire signatures and keep him off the ballot.
"The other side feels they got them before us," Stocker said. "We feel they attained them with fraud. Some are forged signatures. Some are backdated signatures. We've got affidavits, some people say I got there first."
Stocker also accuses party bosses of hiring investigators to visit, and allegedly intimidate, some voters into signing false statements questioning the validity of Stocker's petition.
Erie County Conservative Party chairman Ralph Lorigo strongly denied Stocker's accusations, calling them serious and taking exception to being identified in a complaint Stocker sent to officials at the FBI, US Attorney's Office and New York State Attorney General.
Lorigo, when returning WBFO's phone call, replied that Stocker has been sanctioned three times in previous runs for office for "similar tactics."
Erie County Republican Committee chairman Nick Langworthy told WBFO he is not surprised that Stocker would seek legal action, and like Lorigo pointed out that Stocker has run unsuccessfully on numerous occasions.
"I think it's a big distraction," Langworthy said. "I think it's fabricated. I think he owes some people an apology for making allegations."
Election commissioners also ruled on a challenge by Democratic-endorsed candidate Amber Small regarding Green Party candidate James DePasquale's petition. The Small campaign has claimed that Republican Party operatives are pushing the Green Party petitions. Her attorney, Frank Housh, sat before election officials to discuss their challenge.
Because of the split decision, the Green Party petition stands. Housh will be taking their challenge next to State Supreme Court. They'll attempt to convince Judge John Michalski that signatures on the Green petition are fraudulent."
"What we're arguing is that fraud is defined by election law, people signing when perhaps they shouldn't have signed," Housh said.
Langworthy told WBFO he had no involvement in the Green Party petition campaign: "There's nothing that has come across my desk or at my direction in this race."
Commissioner Mohr is not surprised by the challenges in what has become a hotly contested race. He points out that it may be one of the most important state races this November.
"Many people across the state believe that the 60th Senate seat is going to determine the majority in the New York State Senate," Mohr said.