In an already heated three-way race for the seat of Yates County Judge, three party petitions for one of the candidates — Yates County District Attorney Valerie Gardner — have been voided. The Conservative, the Independence, and the Green parties’ petitions were found to have insufficient signatures. The petitions circulated by one of Gardner’s campaign volunteers are being investigated by the New York State Police for possible forged signatures.
After an official challenge of the petitions by another candidate — Penn Yan Village Justice Matt Conlon — the Board of Elections investigated. Conlon says one of the signatures on the Republican petition was for a person who had signed his petitions, Kandi Koek of Penn Yan, who signed an affidavit stating it is not her signature.
Conlon says other signatures looked like they had been made by the same hand. “It began to look more and more like these weren’t genuine,” says Conlon. The signatures being investigated were collected and witnessed by former Yates County Legislator Patrick Galvin, also formerly a Penn Yan Village Trustee.
According to New York State Election Law, anyone who is qualified to sign a petition may witness a petition. When a person signs the statement of witness, they are making an oath that subjects them to the penalties for perjury if any of the information preceding their signature is false. That information includes a statement that each person signed the petition in their presence.
According to Yates County Republican Election Commissioner Amy Daines, the Board of Elections contacted Gardner Monday, July 25, and Gardner called State Police to investigate her own campaign immediately.
Gardner says she was in the County Clerk’s Office when she received the call. “I just assumed that they needed to get copies to me, so I offered to stop by since I was in the building,” said Gardner in a prepared statement. “I was shocked and appalled to learn that an individual who had passed petitions for numerous candidates may have forged signatures on petitions, and I took the only steps that any person with integrity would take and immediately initiated a criminal investigation.”
Gardner submitted a letter to the Superintendent of State Police, George Beach, requesting the investigation, along with her request to Judge W. Patrick Falvey for a special prosecutor that names Galvin as the subject of the investigation. In a press release made Saturday, Gardner says that as she is the complaintant, she applied to the court to have a special prosecutor appointed to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
State Police Investigators confirmed their investigation, but say the matter is being held until the special prosecutor has been named. They declined to confirm or deny that Galvin is the subject of the investigation or if he may be subject to arrest.
Gardner also states the investigators confirmed she had no knowledge of the alleged forgeries. “Swift reporting is essential in investigating any crime and I did not waste one second after discovery of that possibility. I was raised to do the right thing no matter what the consequences.”
Although Conlon did not contact the police himself upon learning of the alleged forgery, he prepared and notarized Koek’s affadavit July 25, before the State Police investigation began.Conlon replied that he reported the matter to the Board of Elections as irregularities for their investigation. “I’m not a handwriting expert,” says Conlon, who adds how surprised and shocked he was to learn of it, having previously served with Galvin on the Republican Committee in Milo.
Despite the alleged forgeries, Gardner has enough Republican signatures to appear on the party line. Her name will not appear on the Conservative and Independence party lines in the primaries held Sept. 13. The Green Party will not have a primary, as Gardner’s petition was tossed out for not having a notary stamp, and Conlon’s petition was tossed out because of insufficient signatures, due to a miscalculation by the Board of Elections of the minimum number required.
Gardner will appear as candidate on the Republican, Democratic, Working Families, Reform and Women’s Equality Party lines.
Conlon’s name will appear on the Republican, Democratic, Conservative, and Working Families party lines.
Jason Cook’s petitions were also initially challenged by Conlon, but the challenge was withdrawn after Conlon found no irregularities. According to Daines, Cook will appear on the Republican, Conservative, Independence, Reform, and Women’s Equality party lines.
Cook commented via email message Tuesday, “The petition fraud and forgery on Valerie Gardner’s petitions is very troubling, but it’s good that the Board of Elections stood up for the voters by throwing her petitions out. Now I trust that law enforcement and an independent special prosecutor will put forth a full and thorough investigation to find out what happened, who knew what, and when they knew it. The voters deserve to know the truth about how this Gardner fraud situation happened.”
Asked to comment on the findings of fraud, Conlon says, “I’m collecting the lion’s share of signatures myself mostly because I want to meet the people who I hope will vote for me. I don’t have a paid political machine and prefer not to rely on third parties to do my campaigning. I don’t want to be just the Republican or Democratic judge – I want to be everyone’s judge.”
New York State election law states, “Every petition is presumed to be valid when filed, if, on its face it appears to be in proper form and to contain enough signatures.”
Any registered voter may challenge the validity of a petition as long as the objection is filed according to election law deadlines.