21st District Republican Congressional Candidates Challenge Primary Petitions

Apr 23, 2014

The leading Republican candidates running in New York’s 21st Congressional district race are sparring over the validity of petitions one campaign has filed for the Conservative and Independence Party primaries.

Republican Elise Stefanik has been endorsed by 11 of the 12 county chairs in the 21st district.  She also picked up the endorsement of the New York State Conservative Party. Matt Doheny, in the race for the seat for the third straight cycle, is challenging her in a Republican primary. He received endorsements from five of the county Conservative parties.

The Stefanik campaign on Tuesday announced it has challenged the petitions submitted to the NYS Board of Elections by the Doheny campaign to place him on the Independence and Conservative lines.
Stefanik campaign attorney Jim Walsh says as they reviewed their opponent’s petitions, it became apparent there were a number of problems with the signatures.  “There is problems with some of the witnesses. There is problems with some of the notaries. There’s many, many things that were crossed out. They had initials on them. Everything from names to dates to the time frames on when these were collected. It became very, very clear to us that there were problems on how these signatures were collected. Our position was that they were really after numbers and they weren’t so concerned about the accuracy of the information contained on the petitions.”

Walsh adds that the Stefanik campaign may turn to the courts to review the petitions, depending on the actions at the Board of Elections.   “The same problems that you find within the Independence Party are very similar to the problems that are in the Conservative Party petitions. So their candidacy on the Independence Party line, in my opinion, is not valid. Just as the candidacy on the Conservative Party line is not valid. The Board of Elections meets on the 30th of April. If they rule then we’re not going to have to worry about a lawsuit. But if they don’t rule that then we may have to be looking at judicial intervention.”

Donheny for Congress spokesman David Catalfamo counters that the campaign will have more than enough signatures to qualify.  “It’s a competitive situation and the reality is that both candidates will be on the ballot. Both candidates will be competing for votes. The rest of the stuff, honestly, is a lot of noise. Voters care about what are you going to do about jobs? What are you going to do to reduce spending in Washington? What are you going to do about Obamacare? They’re not really so concerned about some arcane petition process and the back and forth that sometimes campaigns do.”

SUNY Plattsburgh Professor of Political Science Tom Konda isn’t surprised to see the campaigns challenge petitions. He characterized the row as a standard boilerplate back-and-forth between campaigns.  “They’re making a big deal of it. And that generally doesn’t hurt because if it turns out that everything was in order voters don’t hold it against them.  So it’s a relatively no-lose situation to challenge. If you do find some irregularities, then it can really work to your favor. The last three elections have all been relatively close. So these two candidates are going to want to have the field  to themselves.”

A Board of Elections spokesperson said he couldn’t comment on specific races but said any registered voter can file a challenge.
The New York State Board of Elections will meet next Wednesday to review petitions and challenges. Doheny and Stefanik are hoping to replace retiring Democratic Congressman Bill Owens.