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Green Party says ballot line was hijacked

Members of the Green Party in Suffolk County say that Republicans have hijacked their line on the November ballot for three countywide judge positions.

Green Party members say they were told that petition carriers were helping the Green Party’s judge candidates get on the ballot.

The catch was that the Green Party doesn’t have any judge candidates and the petition carriers were duping them into signing “Green Party” petitions for Republican candidates. It then appears as if the three Republican judicial candidates also have Green Party backing.

“Stealing the Green Party line on the ballot is unfortunately nothing new, due to draconian and undemocratic New York State election laws designed to hurt minor parties and keep poorly financed people out of the process,” said Pauline Salotti, Suffolk County chair of the Green Party.

Ms. Salotti said that in previous years, neither the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office nor the state attorney general “paid much attention to similar reports of misrepresentation fraud.”

The Republican petitioners gathered 30 signatures in Southold and Riverhead towns and 121 overall, which is enough to get on the ballot.

Wendy Polhemus-Annibell of Laurel says she was duped by a Republican petition carrier. She played a phone message for a reporter that the man left her July 11.

“This is William Mann from the Board of Elections. I’m working for the Green Party,” the message from 60-year-old William Mann of Cutchogue says.

He was specifically looking for Ms. Polhemus-Annibell, one of 51 registered Green Party members in Southold Town, and asked her to call him so he could meet her at her house to sign the petition.

“I live in Cutchogue and I’m running petitions,” the message from Mr. Mann states. “They have to be [submitted] for the Green Party tomorrow.”

While Mr. Mann does work for the Board of Elections, he is also a registered Republican and, since 2011, has contributed $625 to the Suffolk County Republican Committee in 2011 and in 2013, donated $225 to Friends of Joe Sawicki, the former county comptroller who was a registered Republican but last ran with cross-endorsement from the Republican, Democratic, Conservative and Independence parties, but not from the Green Party.

The candidates listed on the “Green Party” petition Mr. Mann was circulating were the Republican candidates: Damon Hagan for Surrogate Court Judge, Steven Pilewski for County Court Judge; and Richard Hoffmann for Family Court Judge. (Ms. Hagan has since declined the nomination and Tara Scully is now the Republican and Green Party candidate for Surrogate Court.)

“It’s unethical to come to my house and lie to me that the candidates on the ballot are Green Party candidates,” said Ms. Polhemus-Annibell.

She said she tried to call Mr. Mann after learning there were no Green Party judge candidates and he refused to answer.

“I feel violated,” she said.

She’s not alone.

“Mine was a very similar story to Wendy’s,” said Celeste Tracy of Aquebogue, who was also asked by Mr. Mann to sign a petition. Again, the petitions presented Republican judge candidates as “Green Party” candidates.

“He came to my home masquerading that he was here to give representation to the Green Party,” she said.

Not only did she sign, but so did her husband and daughter.

But Ms. Tracy, who is one of only 32 registered Green Party members in Riverhead Town, said Mr. Mann came back the following day apologizing. She asked at that point for a card or some sort of identification; he had none.

“He not only stole our signatures, but he’s a liar,” Ms. Tracy said.

Reached at this house, Mr. Mann said he had no comment.

Ms. Tracy thinks petitioners should be required to have identification confirming which party they represent.

Ms. Tracy and Ms. Polhemus-Annibell both said they have filed objections with the Board of Elections, but have yet to hear back on the status. They plan to form a new Suffolk Green Party chapter as a result of the scam to raise awareness on election issues.

“The North Fork Greens chapter will be dedicated to keeping local Greens informed and campaigning for Green candidates,” Ms. Polhemus-Annibell said.

Jennifer Eager of Riverhead, also a Green Party member, said she, too, was conned into signing Green Party petitions for Republican candidates.

She didn’t recall the name of the woman carrying the petitions, but said the petition was notarized by Tammy Robinkoff, a Board of Elections employee and current chair of the Riverhead Town Republican committee.

Ms. Robinkoff did not return a call seeking comment.

Ms. Eager said she was told the petitions were for the “Green Party.”

Ms. Salotti said they’ve received statements from numerous registered Greens who were “furious” to find out they’d been caught up in this.

“I don’t know if petition scammers are taking it a step further every year, given the lack of accountability, but I’m certain that anyone who cares about democracy should be clamoring for voting reform in New York,” she said.

Ms. Polhemus-Annibell said that neither the Republican nor the Democratic chairs at the Board of Elections have been any help or have listened to her concerns.

Republican Board of Elections chairman Nick LaLota did not return calls left by Times-Review and Democratic Board of Elections chair Anita Katz had no comment.

A Board of Elections official said that state law allows a notary to carry nominating petitions for any political party and for any position, whereas someone who is not a notary can only carry petitions for the party that person is registered with.

The petition carriers in the “Green Party” judge case are notaries, according to their petitions, and are all registered Republicans, according to the state Board of Elections.

The official said the Board of Elections cannot investigate or take testimony as to whether a petition carrier represented themselves as being from a particular party, and suggested that this would be a matter for the courts to determine.

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