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Joe Wetmore, Robert CreeJoe Wetmore (left), Robert Cree

First Cree was leading by 12 votes.  Then Wetmore was on top by 2 votes.  With such a close margin the outcome of last week's Lansing Town Board election is anything but certain.  Robert Cree (R, I) Doug Dake (R, I) Joe Wetmore (D, G), and Walaa Maharem-Horan (D, L) competed for two board seats last Tuesday, and while Dake received enugh votes to insure a second term, the margin of votes between incumbent Cree and challenger Wetmore was too close to call.

"Dake has clearly won and Maharem-Horan has clearly finished fourth, so it's just a question of who finishes second," says Democratic Tompkins County Board of Elections Commissioner, Stephen Dewitt.  "We're still counting all the absentee ballots that have been filed all through the county.  We convened last Thursday (November 9th) and opened approximately 185 absentee ballots and approximately 15  affidavit ballots."

The commissioners are waiting to revisit the Lansing election until the deadline passes for receiving military ballots.  That will insure that every ballot is counted.  But the election may not be settled until the end of next week, because ten ballots were challenged at last week's hearing.  There is a three day period after next Monday's scheduled hearing during which the Supreme Court, usually in Ithaca, may rule on challenged ballots.

"There are eight military ballots that we have not received yet," Dewitt says.  "We will meet Monday at 2pm and have another hearing.  The commissioners will rule on whether to open the outstanding ballots.  If we agree to open them we open them.  If we agree to not open a ballot we don't open it.  If we disagree on that it gets set aside for three days and if there is no judicial action at that point then the ballots are opened.

Absentee ballots must be properly filled in, postmarked by Monday, November 6th (the day before the election), and received by November 14th (the 7th day after the election).  While most had  arrived by Thursday there were still a few that had not come in.  Military voters must still be postmarked the day before the election, but are granted another six days to arrive at the Board of Elections office.

Ballots that are mailed in may be challenged on the grounds of fraud or error.  Grounds for a challenge may be that the voter does not reside where he or she has indicated, or that it is not within the voting district listed.  While a ballot can't be voided on the grounds that the voter was actually in the county on election day, it can be voided if a challenger can show the voter did not have a good-faith belief that he or she would be absent from the county.  Some ballots are ruled invalid when voters have marked their choice outside of the voting square on the ballot form.  If a voter writes on the ballot other than in indicated spaces their ballots may be found void.  And yu don't want to change your mind after marking your ballot.

"Here, on the absentee ballot marked exhibit No. 1, in the box for 'Proposal Number Four,' the apparent 'Yes' vote was crossed out and the words 'No vote' were written below the box, along with letters that appear to be initials," reads one court ruling from a case in 2013.

The same applies to the envelopes the ballots are mailed in.  If they are not filled in correctly they may not even be opened to be counted.  The bottom line is: if you mail your ballot be very, very careful about how you fill it out, including the envelope.

"After we rule, anybody that would want to bring an action to dispute our ruling can do so, but they have to initiate it within three days after our hearing," Dewitt says.

Local Republicans and Democrats, anxious for closure, simply have to wait.  While Monday's hearing will yield a result, the final numbers won't be official until the challenged ballots are either ruled on in court and counted... or not.

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