- By Dan Veaner
While Town Councilmen Doug Dake (REP, IND) Robert Cree (REP, IND) won at the polls Tuesday, the spread between Cree and Joe Wetmore (DEM, GRE) was only 12 votes. With more than 200 votes yet to be counted that meant that while it was probable that Dake would keep his seat on the Town Board, Cree's fate on the Board was uncertain. Board of Elections Officials, candidates and their attorneys poured over absentee and affidavit ballots yesterday, hoping for a clearer result, but at the end of the day Wetmore was up by two votes and around 10 of the votes that had been challenged hadn't yet been ruled on. Results for Lansing's representatives on the Tompkins County Legislature were more certain. Mike Sigler (REP, IND) was elected to a third term in the only contested Lansing Legislature seat.
"This was a tough, long race, but after being outspent almost two to one, I'm happy and humbled to again be headed to the County legislature," Sigler said the next day. "It started six months ago and my opponent and I went to thousands of doors. Mike Koplinka-Loehr did a lot of voter outreach and in the end won more than 1000 votes. I thank Mike for a hard fought race where I think the issues and positions were clear; I worked hard supporting the mine, power plant, and ending the natural gas moratorium and I'm relieved the majority of my neighbors in Lansing found those to be the most compelling issues. I'll continue the fight on those issues."
Of the four Candidates for Town Board, the two candidates with the highest vote count win the the two open seats. At the polls Tuesday Dake received 1,508 (25.86%) to Cree's 1,461, Wetmore's 1,449, and Maharem-Horan's 1,406. But after Tuesday's tally Wetmore could still win after 191 absentee ballots and 22 affidavit ballots were counted yesterday. While it was technically possible that Maharem-Horan (DEM, LNL) could win a seat, the numbers suggested it was unlikely, and Thursday's session narrowed the race to Cree and Wetmore, with Dake winning reelection.
"First off, I'd like to thank the numerous people who helped me with this campaign," Wetmore said. "I am truly grateful for both the time and the money that have been so freely and generously given by so many people in my bid to get elected. I am also heartened to see so many people turn out for this local election. This is the largest voter turnout Lansing has seen in years. I think that we, as a community, are better off when more people get involved--not only in the electoral process, but also in the many ways through which citizens can give input to Town Hall."
Wetmore is correct. Passions ran high during this campaign, and voters of all parties came out to vote. The average turnout in the Town outside of the Village of Lansing was 45.9%. In the Village turnout was 31.8%, both unusually high turnouts.
Democrats did particularly well in the south of Lansing Tuesday, especially in the Village. In Districts 6 and 7 (the Village of Lansing) Wetmore received 368 votes, and Maharem-Horan 362. Dake received 119 and Cree 114.
In most of the rest of the Town of Lansing the votes were a mixed bag. In the County Legislator District 6 race (most of the Town of Lansing outside of the Village) Sigler had more votes in four out of five districts, with Koplinka-Loehr taking a significant lead in District 5 (the southern-most district outside the Village). On the Town Board side Wetmore and Maharem-Horan had a clear lead in southern Districts 5, 6 and 7. Dake and Cree had more votes in Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 8. But in the overall tally Wetmore received only 12 fewer votes than Cree, putting Cree's third bid for Town Councilman in jeopardy.
Deborah Dawson (DEM, WOR) ran uncontested for District 10 (The Villages of Lansing and Cayuga Heights), garnering 1,126 votes, 98.95% of those cast, with 12 write-ins. The seat is currently held by Dooley Kiefer, who is retiring from the Legislature at the end of this year.
"I am humbled and excited to be part of what will be an historically diverse Tompkins County Legislature," Dawson said Wednesday. "If you voted yesterday, wherever you voted and for whomever you voted, thank you for participating in democracy in this off-year election! In the months ahead, I urge all of our Lansing residents to pay close attention to what their local governments are working on, to educate themselves on local issues, and to make their voices heard - not only on election days, but at every local board and legislative meeting."
Glenn Morey (REP) also ran uncontested for another term in the District 9 Legislator seat (the eastern portion of North Lansing), winning with 1,126 votes (98.95%). There were also 12 write-ins for that district. Morey has served on the Legislature since 2015.
The District 6 Legislature (Town of Lansing except District 8 in North Lansing and districts 6 and 7 in the Village of Lansing) race was a hard-fought campaign with both candidates attending public events, campaigning door to door, and participating in a debate. Sigler will serve for his third term. After winning his first term, he lost an election to former Legislator Pat Pryor by a small margin, then won a second term against Pryor, also by a relatively small margin. Koplinka Loehr is also a former Tompkins County Legislator, having served for 12 years before moving to Lansing. Sigler defeated Koplinka-Loehr with 53.52% of votes, 1,262 for Sigler to 1,092 for Koplinka-Loehr.
"Congratulations to Mike Sigler on the outcome of the election," Koplinka-Loehr said Wednesday evening. "I thank him in advance for his service to District 6 Lansing residents on the Tompkins County Legislature in the next term, since I know the demands which that role requires. I also thank each and every voter for exercising their vote, since that's what makes Lansing such a wonderful place to live: engaged citizens with exceptional community spirit. From the very beginning of this campaign, it has been my distinct honor and privilege to seek to represent Lansing residents. My faith in Lansing has grown through the process and I'm simply humbled by all the amazing support extended to me along the way, from all walks of life. Words alone cannot capture my heartfelt gratitude, most especially to my wife and family."
Of 235 absentee ballots sent, 191 had been received by Wednesday of this week. There were also 22 affidavit ballots, which are cast at the polls by people whose address may have changed or been reported after the poll books were finalized. Those voters fill out a ballot at their new polling place that is placed in an envelope to be certified and counted with the absentee ballots. Voter must affirm their new address, and fill out questions that help update their voter information.
It typically takes a couple of weeks before all the votes are officially counted, but Board Of Election officials met with the candidates and their lawyers yesterday to begin going through ballots that had been mailed. With the Cree/Wetmore votes so close, any absentee votes that come before Tuesday will be crucial, and if challenges to absentee ballots are not satisfactorily resolved the vote result could end up in court.
The requirement for absentee ballots is that they be properly filled in, postmarked by Monday, November 6th, and received by next Tuesday, November 14th. A Board of Elections official says that a few may come before next Tuesday, but yesterday's count will probably determine the outcome. Even so, the official vote count will not be released before next week.
It is especially important to fill in absentee and affidavit ballots, including the information on the envelope correctly if a voter wants to insure his or her vote is not disqualified. The Board Of Elections opens the absentee ballots one community at a time. Often candidates bring their attorneys to sit at a conference table while Democratic Election Commissioner Stephen Dewitt and Republican Election Commissioner Elizabeth Cree inspect the envelopes for compliance with election standards. The envelopes are passed around the table and a judgement on whether to accept or disqualify each envelope is made, with candidates and/or their attorneys weighing in. Envelopes that have been correctly filled out are then opened, and the process of accepting or disqualifying the votes is repeated.
The earliest the Town Board election will be definitively resolved is likely to be Tuesday. In the meanwhile, the clear Lansing wins Tuesday were for the three County Legislature seats that represent portions of Lansing.
"The challenge for me going forward will be to discover what the top issues were for the voters who cast their lot with my opponent," Sigler said the day after Election Day. "I'll represent them too for the next four years and I want to know what they think I should be doing to make Lansing a better place to live, raise a family, work, retire. I think those that have made Lansing their home have a lot in common, a lot to be proud of. With a strong foundation, we can build a better community, but I need input from everyone I represent and that's the job you've hired me for."