ELECTIONS: Board says Cape Vincent can’t trump state rules
AUGUST 13, 2011
CAPE VINCENT — Vote away, snowbirds and seasonals. A resolution passed Thursday night by the Town Council violates state law and will have no effect on this fall’s election, a battle that is by and large a referendum on wind power. “The town can’t pass a law that’s going to trump our state election law that says, ‘This is what you need to vote,’” said Thomas E. Connolly, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections. In a 3-2 vote, the Town Council passed a resolution declaring that those who are voting in the Sept. 13 primary or the Nov. 8 general election must show a driver’s license at the polls, and absentee voters must photocopy a driver’s license and send it in with the absentee ballot. That threatened to suppress the turnout of Cape Vincent voters who don’t live in town year-round — the targets of a recent voter registration drive by anti-wind-development activists.
But state law includes no driver’s license requirement. Voters only have to have lived where they’re voting for 30 days. There’s no restriction on how many times voters can change their addresses, Mr. Connolly said. State Board of Elections officials use a database to delete duplicate registrations, so if somebody newly registers in Jefferson County, a previous registration in Erie County, for example, would cease to exist.
Jerry O. Eaton and Sean M. Hennessey, who are Jefferson County’s Republican and Democratic elections commissioners, respectively, said Cape Vincent’s town law does not trump state election law and “has no legality.” “We follow state election law and that resolution has no bearing on our office,” Mr. Eaton said, adding that county election workers — in charge of administering the election — will be made aware of the issue. The commissioners also said absentee voters do not have to submit a copy of their driver’s license with a Cape Vincent address along with their ballot.
“They are not allowed to tell voters to do that,” Mr. Eaton said.
Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general, said that the issue had been brought to the office’s attention. “We’re very much aware of the issue,” she said.
Opponents of wind-power development launched a registration drive in May to sign up Cape Vincent seasonal residents. Seasonal residents number 5,200 in the town, nearly double the 2,700 year-round residents. Proponents of wind-power development, though, said that such tactics are unethical and perhaps illegal. Upcoming votes could have an enormous influence on the future of wind power development in the town. In the corner representing wind-power opponents is Urban C. Hirschey, the incumbent town supervisor who was once part of the Wind Power Ethics Group that opposes wind power development. Opposing him is Harvey J. White, who holds contracts with the St. Lawrence Wind Farm and the Cape Vincent Wind Farm project developers and is a vocal wind-power development supporter. The men will face off for the Republican primary in September, a do-or-die for Mr. Hirschey. Mr. White has petitioned for the Conservative Party line in the general election.
Arthur D. Pundt, an opponent of wind power development, pointed out that the resolution would preclude those living along the border — residents of Cape Vincent with a Clayton mailing address — from voting as well. This would make the owners of Wood Farm, who would gain the most from the proposed St. Lawrence Wind Farm project, also unable to vote in town elections, he said.
Perhaps because the three pro-wind power councilmen were aware of this, Mr. Pundt said, they included a measure in the resolution that would allow the election official at the polls to “waive the identification requirement if the election official knows the identity of the voter. If that’s the case, what would stop an election official from rigging the election? Talk about discrimination. It’s ridiculous,” he said. “This is no more than a scare tactic. The underlying, real issue here is local control. The old town guards are afraid they’re going to lose their old political power.”
Harold L. Wiley, a lifelong Cape Vincent resident, had submitted petitions to the Town Board urging the driver’s license requirement. “In my opinion, it’s voter fraud,” Mr. Wiley said of the registration drive. “I used to know everybody in Cape Vincent. But among those 250 voters, I’d be surprised if I knew more than 10 people.”