Republican New York gubernatorial candidate accused of 'clear and convincing' election fraud

Republican New York gubernatorial candidate accused of 'clear and convincing' election fraud
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Democrats in New York State are demanding a criminal investigation into United States Congressman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin's campaign for allegedly leading a "dubious petitioning effort" to add third parties to the August 23rd primary ballot in order to siphon votes away from Democratic incumbent Governor Kathy Hochul.

"The petitioning centered on statewide Republican candidates seeking to run on an additional, key ballot line in the November election by reviving the moribund state Independence Party," The Times Union reported on Monday. "A spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, Jessica Proud, confirmed to the Times Union that signed Independence Party petitions were later dropped at their party headquarters on State Street in Albany — and bound in volumes at the party office — before submission to the state Board of Elections on the May 31 deadline."

Nearly twenty percent of the 52,000 signatures needed to put "upstart third parties" on the ballot were "xeroxed copies of other, original signatures within those same records," the Times Union explained. "The copied pages were interspersed in a manner leading some election experts to conclude their inclusion may have been intentional, possibly to inflate the number of signatures to surpass the daunting new threshold of 45,000 valid signatures for upstart state parties to gain ballot access."

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The issue first came to light in June when the Libertarian Party "flagged the problematic Independence Party petition signatures," the Times Union noted.

In July, the paper continued, "the state Board of Elections found that more than 12,800 signatures submitted were invalid, including more than 11,000 that had been photocopied. With about 39,000 remaining, Zeldin and other statewide Republicans fell roughly 6,000 short of gaining an Independence Party ballot line, which in the past has helped sway certain close elections for GOP candidates."

Libertarian Party Secretary Andrew Kolstee said in a statement to The Hill at the time that “Republicans talk a lot about election integrity, but the Zeldin campaign attempted to fly under the radar and submit over 11,000 fraudulent signatures in an attempt to get a third line on the ballot, while New York’s oppressive ballot access laws, which were changed in 2020 to prevent third parties from getting on the ballot, prevent voter choice.”

State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs also told the paper that "Lee Zeldin was one of the many far-right Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election under the guise of election fraud — a dangerous conspiracy theory peddled by Donald Trump and his pawns in Congress,” adding that "Zeldin submitting 11,000 fake signatures just emphasizes his hypocrisy and proves he is willing to sell New Yorkers another ‘Big Lie’ to benefit his failing campaign."

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Proud, however, maintained in her interview that the inclusion of copied signatures was "inadvertent" and was merely an unfortunate consequence of last-minute scrambling by staffers.

"Whether for record-keeping or data entry purposes, it is a very common procedure for copies to be made of petitions by campaigns and even individuals who gather signatures," she told the Times Union. "The process was chaotic and as a result, copies of the valid signatures were inadvertently included in the filing. The mistake was acknowledged and the [Board of Elections] decision to rule the petitions invalid was accepted with no further action taken."

Proud further insisted that "the GOP could not say for certain whether the volumes containing copies were assembled at GOP headquarters. She did not know where else volumes might have been bound besides that office, however, and confirmed that petition volumes are typically bound in a single location."

Zeldin's campaign offered a nearly identical defense and has accused Hochul of employing "people who hate the Republican Party" who "are working overtime trying to spin this into something it's not to distract from the very real corruption of the pay-to-play scandals that are going on inside her office."

Demands for a criminal probe have since emerged from Democratic lawmakers like State Senator Zellnor Myrie, who represents Brooklyn and chairs the State Senate Elections Committee.

"It is clear the Zeldin campaign perpetrated a fraud. Pages of valid signatures were photocopied. Thereafter, the original sheets were paginated, as were the photocopied pages. These sheets were assigned different page numbers in order to create the appearance that the pages contained separate, valid signatures. All of this was in an attempt to create the appearance that the Petition contained at least the minimum of 45,000 valid signatures. These actions are clear and convincing," Myrie wrote in a nine-count criminal complaint filing to Albany County District Attorney David Soares that was shared exclusively with City & State on August 4th.

"New Yorkers must have confidence that our elections are fair, honest and transparent. In my role as Chair of the Senate Elections Committee, I have not hesitated to defend our system of elections from spurious allegations of fraud. However, when actual election fraud appears to have occurred, as it does in this case, it is essential for the public trust that potential violations are investigated fully and swiftly," said Myrie. "For that reason, I urge you to use your powers to investigate these apparent violations of public integrity."

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