ALBANY – The Albany County Board of Elections invalidated 156 signatures on Wednesday, June 15, to bring the total number of valid petition signatures to 922 for town board candidate and Glenmont resident Kellin Rowlands of the new Uniting Bethlehem party. The total number of signatures needed to be on the ballot in November is 929 according to BOE documents.
If Rowlands had collected enough valid signatures, it would create an additional party line on the November ballot and would appear below Democrat, Republican, Conservative and Working Family lines.
Bethlehem Democratic Committee second vice chair Jeff Baker filed objections to 256 signatures on the 1,078 submitted on Rowlands petition. Rowlands submitted his petition on May 26, and Baker filed his objections on June 5.
The objections about the signatures included how the signatures appeared, the validity of signatures themselves, information missing on the individual forms and the signer not being legally eligible, under election law, to sign.
According to documents Spotlight News received from the BOE, Baker provided over 300 pages of evidence to show why individual signatures were not valid. A BOE review of the petitions by Democratic Commissioner Kathleen Donovan and Republican Commissioner Rachel Bledi determined that 156 signatures were not valid. This total was formalized after the June 15 hearing and left Rowlands seven signatures short of gaining a line on the ballot.
“I am glad that Mr. Rowlands acknowledged the validity of the petition challenge and hope he adheres to the rules moving forward,” Baker said on June 12. “That said, it is clear he does not meet the requirements for this year’s election.”
Rowlands, however, has retained attorney and former Albany County Democratic Election Commissioner and Bethlehem Democratic Committee Chairman Matt Clyne to represent him during the BOE hearing and has filed a State Supreme Court action against the BOE ruling.
On Friday, June 17, the BOE was served with papers for court, and a source with knowledge of the situation said Baker will be served over the weekend.
A court date will be set and a judge will hear arguments, view evidence and decide if the BOE’s determination on individual signatures is valid. If Rowlands and Clyne are successful in reversing only seven, he can appear on the ballot.
The court date should take place in the next few weeks.
“Because this does not affect the primary election, there is not a huge push to get to court. These cases are heard and determined within days if it did,” Bledi said.
“I am taking on legacy political operations on both sides,” Rowlands said. “I came into this with no experience in politics.”
According to Rowlands, Uniting Bethlehem was a group that eventually became a party formed as a response to the Port of Albany expansion on Beacon Island and members’ experience with the town’s planning and zoning boards.
“We all walked away from those meetings with a feeling that there is a legacy, single-party control of our government,” he said. “We want to bring some civilian representation and greater transparency to local government. We want to represent everybody.”
Rowlands said that the group is made up of people from both main parties and the petitions reflected that. The witnesses listed that collected the signatures included both Democrats and Republicans.
Currently on the ballot for two Bethlehem Town Board seats in November are Democrats Joyce Becker and Tom Schnurr and Republican Theresa O’Neil. Rowlands would only appear on the Uniting Bethlehem line.
The only primary race this year is for Bethlehem Highway Superintendent on the Conservative party line. That contest will feature Conservative Craig Sleurs and Democrat Marc Dorsey.