Dutchess judge rejects petition challenge
By Jeff Simms
A judge on Aug. 8 reversed a decision by the Dutchess County Board of Elections to remove Beacon City Council Member Ali Muhammad’s name from the Sept. 12 primary ballot because some voters on his nominating petition printed their signatures instead of using cursive.
Muhammad, a two-term Democrat who represents Ward 4 but is running for an at-large seat, was removed from the ballot after objections to his petition left him about a dozen signatures short of the 220 needed.
The challenges were filed by Charles Kelly, a former council member, and Lee Kyriacou, an at-large member running for re-election. Each objection was reviewed by the two county election commissioners (one Democrat, one Republican).
After being informed he had fallen short, Muhammad appealed to Judge Maria Rosa of the Dutchess County Supreme Court, who heard the case in Poughkeepsie on Aug. 4 and 7.
Rosa’s decision to validate Muhammad’s petition creates a primary for the Democrats for the council’s at-large seats. On Sept. 12, voters will choose two of the three candidates — Muhammad, Kyriacou and incumbent George Mansfield — to face Republican Amando Downer on Nov. 7.
All in the details
Muhammad submitted a nominating petition with 298 signatures but fell short when about 80 were disallowed, including a number where voters had printed, rather than signed, their names, court records show.
The Republican commissioner at the Dutchess County Board of Elections, Erik Haight, tallied 207 valid signatures, and the Democratic commissioner, Marco Caviglia, stopped counting when he found 90 invalid signatures. That meant Muhammad needed Rosa to reverse the rulings on at least 13 signatures to reach the 220 he needed.
Muhammad brought to court affidavits from more than a dozen voters who had printed their names on his petition, each affirming his or her intent to support his candidacy. Based on that, Rosa reversed 12 rejections. That put Muhammad at 219 valid signatures.
Next, Haight noted that a signature that had been invalidated was actually acceptable, making 220. The judge then compared the signatures on the petitions to those on the voter rolls for six other signers, and found one close enough to confirm without further investigation. That made 221.
Rosa rejected objections that some of the dates with signatures were not in order, saying there is no rule that they must be sequential.
Kelly and Kyriacou also objected to a petition filed by Omar Harper, who represents Ward 2 and was seeking re-election as a Democrat. After a review by the commissioners, Harper had only 58 valid signatures, five short of the 63 required. The difference was a sheet of signatures tossed because the witness does not live in Beacon.
All six seats on the council are contested every two years. The two at-large seats are held by Kyriacou and Mansfield, both Democrats and both running for re-election.
Harper will still appear on the Nov. 7 ballot because he also filed a nominating petition to run as a Republican for his Ward 2 seat. He will face Democratic candidate John Rembert.
Along with Rembert, Kyriacou and Mansfield, the Beacon Democratic Committee has endorsed Terry Nelson (Ward 1), Jodi McCredo (Ward 3) and Amber Grant (Ward 4).
In addition to Harper and Downer, the Beacon Republican Committee has endorsed Wayne Theiss (Ward 1), Andrew Gauzza III (Ward 3) and Chris Bopp (Ward 4).
Paul Yeaple, a Ward 1 candidate running on the “Stand with Ali” team, will be on the Green Party line.
Ward 4 candidate Darrell Williams, also a member of the Stand with Ali slate, was ruled ineligible because he is not a registered Democrat and also had only 25 valid signatures of the 63 required.
More names may still be added to the ballot, because independent candidates have until Aug. 22 to submit nominating petitions. Williams has said he intends to file to run in Ward 4 as an independent.