A lawsuit filed Friday by Frank C. Max Jr. and two other Democratic leaders accuses a Democratic elections commissioner of using election law to “game the system” to unfairly boost Jeremy J. Zellner’s election as chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party.
Zellner defeated Max with about 57 percent of committee members’ weighted votes to Max’s 43 percent at the party’s Sept. 29 reorganizational meeting. Max’s suit in State Supreme Court seeks to nullify the election results and force a new vote.
In court papers, his attorneys said improper redistricting of election districts in Amherst and other areas, engineered by Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward, unfairly weighted the vote toward Zellner.
West Seneca Chairman Daniel S. McParlane and John F. Fracos, a Buffalo zone chairman, joined Max, chairman of the Cheektowaga Democratic Committee, in filing the lawsuit. McParlane previously has pointed out that Max received more actual votes than Zellner did when weighted ballots were not considered.
“As a result of selective and discriminatory redistricting, committee members not favored by the party leaders or perceived to be supporters of Max ... tended to have a lower weighted vote compared to committee members favored by the party organization,” according to the lawsuit.
“He’s a sorry loser,” Ward said of Max. “He’s looking for excuses and looking for explanations for why he failed.”
Given the secret ballot, no one should assume that all committee members voted according to how town or zone chairmen wanted them to vote.
“He simply didn’t have the support,” Ward said. “And when proven he didn’t have support, now he wants to cry foul.”
Max had “every opportunity” to run supporters in all of the election districts, Ward said.
“We’ll sort it out in court,” Ward said. “They’re entitled to their day in court. It was a fair election.”
In addition to Ward, the suit names Zellner, Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr, former county committee chairman Leonard Lenihan and the Democratic committee as defendants.
Voting by party committee members is usually guided by weighted vote, determined by the last gubernatorial election. Reapportionment and a reduction of Erie County election districts from 994 to 887 resulted in some new districts, based on Democratic enrollment.
Ward has said the changes did cause differences, pointing out that Amherst went from 14 percent of the weighted vote in the chairman election to 15.5 percent after redistricting. Buffalo went from 35 percent to 39.5 percent.
The lawsuit pointed out that Carl Paladino’s strong showing in the gubernatorial election in South Buffalo, West Seneca and Cheektowaga “depressed traditional Democratic voting.”
“This electoral phenomenon would later present Ward and Mohr with a unique political opportunity to manipulate election district changes or creations to drastically impact the weighted vote of political party committeeman at the expense of petitioners,” according to the lawsuit.
Peter A. Reese and Joseph G. Makow- ski are Max’s attorneys.