By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — A Niagara County lawmaker has filed a complaint with the sheriff's office accusing the appointed clerk of the legislature of misusing her powers as a notary public in an effort to help his opponent secure a minor party line in their upcoming race.
Legislator Jason Zona, a Democrat who represents the Town of Niagara and parts of Niagara Falls as the legislature's 5th District representative, has asked the sheriff's office to investigate an opportunity to ballot petition submitted to the board of elections by his opponent, Giulio Colangelo, and notarized by county legislature clerk Mary Jo Tamburlin.
Zona also filed specific objections to the petition with the board of elections on Tuesday.
Zona and Niagara County Democratic Committee Chairman Nick Forster are accusing Tamburlin, who helped Colangelo collect voter signatures as part of the petition process earlier this month, of altering the date tied to three petition signatures in an effort to give the candidate a better chance of securing the Working Families Party line on the ballot this fall.
Zona is endorsed by the Democratic and Working Families parties, while Colangelo, who is registered with the Independence Party, has the support of both the county Republicans and Conservatives.
The opportunity to ballot process allows candidates to attempt to steal a party line away from their opponent by obtaining a majority of write-in votes during the September primary. Due to the relatively low number of registered Working Families Party voters in the district, Colangelo needed just five signatures on an opportunity to ballot petition to qualify for a write-in campaign. This year, the board of elections required petitions for opportunity to ballot to be filed by July 18.
Individuals who are not members of the party in question are not allowed to secure signatures from registered party voters as part of the opportunity to ballot process. A notary public, such as Tamburlin, or a commissioner of deeds, can, under the law, attest to the accuracy of any party's petitions.
The Democrats secured affidavits from three of the five people who signed Colangelo's opportunity to ballot petition. In copies of the affidavits supplied to the Niagara Gazette, the three Town of Niagara men state that their signatures dated July 18 as notarized by Tamburlin were "in fact" signed by them on July 17.
At the time the three Town of Niagara men were approached for their signatures, Forster said they were not affiliated with the Working Families Party. According to Forster, the three men were approached about registering with the party and filled out registration forms to do so.
The Democrats argue that the petition should be invalidated as, based on the affidavits, the three men who signed it had no authority to do so on July 17 if they weren't formally registered as members of the Working Families Party until July 18.
Beyond the validity question, Forster says the July 18 date notarized by Tamburlin raises questions about her handling of the petition.
"Right now, it's an allegation of voter fraud," Forster said.
Sheriff James Voutour confirmed Tuesday that his office did receive a complaint from Zona, but would not discuss any additional details.
"We are looking into the complaint as we would any complaint," the sheriff said.
Tamburlin, who is a member of the Niagara County Republican Executive Committee and was appointed to her clerk's position by the legislature's Republican-led majority, did not return telephone calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Colangelo confirmed that he did receive help in securing petition signatures from Tamburlin, but insisted he had nothing to do with the actual notarization or filing of the petition on July 18. He also said he was not aware of any potential improprieties in connection with the filing of the petition.
"I'm disappointed in what's going on here," said Colangelo, who works as a teacher in the Niagara Falls School District. "I did nothing wrong."
Colangelo said he got involved in the race and in politics in an effort to help improve the community. He said he'd prefer to be discussing the issues facing the district as opposed to the challenge to one of his petitions.
"I would not be foolish enough to tamper with election documents," he added. "My integrity would never allow me to do that."