Elections officials have no plans to change Ogdensburg City Council ballot, despite complaints
Tuesday, August 20, 2019 - 1:55 pm

BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week

OGDENSBURG – Barring a lawsuit and a judge’s ruling, the Ogdensburg City Council ballot in November will include three at large seats and one “special” seat, which candidates must run for separately.

"We are required by state law to continue this process unless ordered by a supreme court judge to do otherwise. This process started in late Feburary, Since that time we have received petitions, which no one challenged and conducted a primary, which no one challenged. Legally we can't just undo that," said St. Lawrence County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Tom Nichols.

Nichols says that while the primary race may not have been handled as outlined in Ogdensburg’s City Charter, it was handled properly according to New York State Law.

“We follow state election law. It’s not our responsibility to seek out changes made by local governments. That’s the responsibility of the governing body, which in this case is the city,” he said.

A letter issued by John Rishe and Jeffrey Michael Skelly, who are running as write-in candidates for city council and mayor respectively, says that the primary held in June was not handled in the manner outlined in the Ogdensburg City Charter. They also contend that the November ballot does not align with rules set forth in the charter.

According to the charter, Ogdensburg council seats are to be filled by candidates running at large, which means the vacant seats are to be filled by the candidates receiving the highest number of votes. In the case of an unexpired term, the winner receiving the fewest number of votes would fill the shortest term – in this case, the fourth-highest vote getter.

But, while there are four seats up for grabs, only three are being filled at large. The confusion stems from the handling of an unexpired term left vacant by Shawn Shaver in March that was filled with the appointment of Michael Powers.

Powers was appointed to fill the position only until the next election, which is set for November.

Nichols said a primary held in June followed rules outlined by state law, which is different from the city charter and while the city has the legal ability to follow a different rule set, the burden is on the city to notify the board of elections of those differences.

Nichols said the city did not inform the board of elections of the special method for filling unexpired terms laid out in the city charter and because elections officials were not notified of the city’s “at-large” method for filling the unexpired terms, they followed state law, which treats unexpired terms as special cases. Under that method candidates must run for the unexpired term rather than “at-large.”

Skelly and Rishe argue that because the primary race was not handled as outlined by the city charter, the current ballot for November should include the names of all candidate who ran in the primary, including the low vote getter, Justin Jones, who was knocked out of the November race.

But, Nichols says that unless a judge rules otherwise, the primary results will remain valid and the November ballot will be handled in accordance with state law, rather than according to the city charter.

“There will be three city council seats for four-year terms and one city council seat for a two-year term,” he said.

As the November ballot stands Michael Powers will run unopposed for the two-year term, while four candidates will compete for the other three full-terms.

“As far as I am concerned on the ballot what you see now is what you get,” Nichols said.