Warner, McHugh dispute election site removal

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Courtesy of Pexels

COEYMANS — A quarrel between a village and town official over an incident during the November town election has still not been put to rest.

Ravena Deputy Mayor Nancy Warner, a Democrat, came forward last month disputing her removal as a poll inspector at the Coeymans firehouse during the 2021 town election.

She was asked by the Albany County Board of Elections to leave the property and vacate her position as a poll inspector because under New York state law elected officials are not permitted to work at polling sites, according to Democratic Election Commissioner Kathleen Donovan and Republican Election Commissioner Rachel Bledi.

But Warner said the incident started before that issue was raised.

A complaint was initially filed by Republican Town Supervisor George McHugh claiming Warner was electioneering — trying to sway a voter at the polling site, which is not allowed under state law.

Warner denies the complaint’s accusation.

“He flat out lied,” Warner alleged. “He smeared my name at a polling place and you know that spreads like wildfire, so he is not going to get away with it. I am not going to let this go, that people think this is what actually happened and he will be held accountable one way or another.”

Warner obtained the complaint McHugh filed with the state Attorney General’s Office through the Freedom of Information Law and alleged the complaint was “a blatant lie,” a claim McHugh denies.

“They told me he was speaking with the county Board of Elections that day, working to have me removed when it was proven throughout the day that I was not trying to sway voters,” Warner said. “He then went to Plan B, which he found a law that said I can’t work because I am an elected official.”

Local resident Terry Pemberton was the voter the complaint claimed was the target of electioneering, Warner said, but Pemberton denied Warner tried to influence her vote.

Pemberton said she voted first, prior to Warner speaking with her about an unrelated issue.

“I went to her (Warner) and asked her about one of the buildings on Main Street,” Pemberton said. “We were just briefly talking about that and there was no influencing my vote or anything like that because for one thing, I voted first, then I talked to her, and it had nothing to do with politics or anything like that.”

McHugh said he did file a complaint and stands by his assertion.

“She was talking to a voter in the corner of the Coeymans firehouse and I heard my name mentioned and I heard my opponent’s name mentioned,” McHugh said. “That was the first thing. But when I contacted the Board of Elections, they said why would she even be there because she is an elected official and it is against the law to be an election inspector if you are an elected official. That was the secondary issue.”

Democratic Election Commissioner Kathleen Donovan said Warner was asked to leave the polling site because of her position as an elected official, not because of claims of electioneering.

“She was asked to leave because she is an elected official and elected officials are not allowed to work as poll inspectors under New York state election law,” Donovan said.

Donovan said she was aware that a complaint had been filed with the state Attorney General’s Office about alleged electioneering, but no investigation was conducted to determine if electioneering had taken place.

“We get a lot of complaints on Election Day that people are doing this or that, and we can’t investigate every complaint that there is,” Donovan said. “A lot of it is misconstrued — people may think they are doing something when in fact they are not, so we don’t normally investigate unless it’s blatant.”

“She was terminated because she was an elected official, not because she was electioneering,” Donovan added.

Republican Election Commissioner Rachel Bledi said there are reasons for the provision of the law that prohibits elected officials from working at the polls.

“The law is very clear about it — you can’t serve as an elected official and serve as an inspector,” Bledi said. “The reason for that is we are trying to protect the integrity of the election. We have measures in place to preserve ballot security and prevent things like electioneering, where you don’t want them utilizing their incumbency to create an impression where they are greeting voters, having conversations with them and you don’t know what the nature of the conversation is. There are measures in place in election law to prevent that kind of stuff from happening.”

Warner said she has served as an election inspector for many years and her position was never disputed in the past.

“I have served as an election official for eight or 10 years and this was the first time anyone had an issue with it. Even at the Board of Elections, no one was aware of this law,” Warner said. “This was just grasping at straws.”

She reiterated that claims of electioneering were false.

“[McHugh] knowingly and willingly called the New York State Attorney General and lied because he heard me speaking to this woman, which is a blatant lie because she said we never, ever discussed voting,” Warner alleged. “I want people to know what kind of a person [McHugh] is, what kind of two-faced liar he is and how he will go to any extreme to get what he wants.”

McHugh said he believed Warner was electioneering, but the bigger issue is that she should not have been at the polling site in the first place.

“The bottom line is, was she violating state election law or not? Yes, she was,” McHugh said. “She was called by the Board of Elections commissioners and told she has to leave, she can’t be there, it is against the law.”

Warner said she left the polling site when the election commissioners instructed her to do so.

Election officials said there are no plans to further investigate the issue.

“As far as I was concerned, her removal was sufficient and that was the end of the story,” Bledi said.

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