LOCKPORT – Niagara County Democrats this week asked the Sheriff’s Office to investigate whether County Legislature Clerk Mary Jo Tamburlin notarized a false statement on an election petition, which would be a crime.
Sheriff James R. Voutour, a Democrat, said Wednesday that the investigation “will take some time.”
Democrats have formally challenged the validity of the petition at the county Board of Elections, but there has not yet been a ruling.
Tamburlin, a North Tonawanda Republican and a notary public, used her authority in the latter role to gather signatures last week for a petition to require a write-in primary in the Working Families Party for legislator in the 5th District.
The minor party has endorsed Democratic incumbent Jason A. Zona in the district, which covers the Town of Niagara and part of Niagara Falls. The Republicans are running former Legislator Giulio G. Colangelo against Zona.
The “opportunity to ballot” petition would give the GOP candidate a chance to grab the Working Families line if he could muster enough write-in signatures to beat Zona, whose name would be the only one on the printed ballot.
Notaries and commissioners of deeds are allowed to gather signatures on petitions in any political party, something Colangelo, a registered member of the Independence Party, could not have done legally by himself.
The problem allegedly arose on the night of July 17, the day before the deadline to file opportunity to ballot petitions. The Republicans needed three valid signatures from Working Families Party members to make the petition valid.
They faced a problem because there are only 55 members of that party in the 5th District, and Zona had gotten 42 of them to sign his nominating petition. That disqualified them from signing any other petition connected to the Legislature seat.
The 13 voters Zona didn’t get either lived in nursing homes, had moved or were otherwise unavailable, Zona said.
“I made a concerted effort to hit every Working Families voter in my district, to prevent efforts like this,” Zona said.
“I knew the only way they could do it was to register new voters. Unfortunately, they waited until the last minute to do it.”
Colangelo said he was present when Tamburlin obtained the signatures of three men on the evening of July 17, having them sign voter-registration cards to join the Working Families Party, as well as the opportunity to petition.
The Democrats pounced when Tamburlin submitted the petition with all the signatures dated July 18. Since the three signers had signed voter cards the night before, they wouldn’t have been submitted until business hours on July 18, meaning the three weren’t registered with Working Families when they signed the petition.
The Democrats obtained signed affidavits from the three new voters. Two said they signed July 17, and one said he signed July 16. The petition, examined by The Buffalo News, showed the date “7/18” for each, with every date in what appeared to be the same handwriting. There was no indication of cross-outs or white-outs.
Tamburlin declined to comment. But Colangelo said, “I’ve done nothing wrong. I wasn’t with her when she filed the petition, when she authorized the signatures. I’m trying to run a clean campaign. I want to focus on the issues, what’s important to my district. … I would not be foolish enough to tamper with election documents. My integrity will not allow it.”
Zona said, “To me, every line’s a big deal. You can’t argue the success of the Republican Party over the last decade, and one reason is, they control the Conservative and Independence parties, hands down, and they have completely infiltrated the Working Families line.”