Niagara Gazette

November 24, 2012

GOP lawmaker demands 'inquiry' into election night reporting and board dismissal

By Joyce M. Miles
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Republican lawmakers moved this week to table re-appointment of Niagara County's Democratic election commissioner after one demanded an inquiry into recent events involving the Board of Elections.

Legislator Paul Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, made the motion to table Nancy Smith's reappointment after complaining of the office's handling of voting results on election night. He further suggested comments by Smith regarding the recent firing of a board clerk, former North Tonawanda mayor Lawrence Soos, suggested improper behavior.

The proposal to confirm Smith's re-appointment, on the recommendation of the Niagara County Democratic Committee, was made at the end of a nearly three-hour legislature business meeting — which was made so long by an unusually lengthy GOP majority caucus.

The vote on tabling Smith's appointment was 11 yes and 2 no. Majority caucus members all voted in favor. Niagara Falls Democrats Dennis Virtuoso and Jason Zona, two-thirds of the three-member minority caucus, voted against tabling.

Virtuoso charged Wojtaszek with "playing politics."

"This hasn't happened in the 22 years I've been here,” he said. “When the (party) committee backs appointment, that's taken into consideration ..."

County legislators voted unanimously to confirm reappointment of GOP Election Commissioner Mary Ann Casamento, per the county party committee's recommendation, in early October.

Wojtaszek asserted his request for investigations of board office-related matters is "not political," it's concerned with actions of county employees, and in the case of election night results reporting, concerned with actions of employees on either side of the aisle politically.

On election night, the board office was several hours late posting vote counts in the presidential, congressional and state legislative elections. It had chosen election day as the day to go "live" with a new computerized reporting system, in which vote tallies from polling sites would be transmitted directly to the board's website and the system crashed. Smith said it was overloaded as results came in from dozens of polling sites all at once. Municipal clerks had to end up bringing memory cards from the electronic voting machines to the board office for counting.

Niagara County was a player in one of the most-watched congressional races in the country, the 27th district race between Chris Collins and Kathy Hochul, and "nobody" could find out how it was shaping up — not voters, not the candidates or the media — thanks to the crash, he observed.

Of Soos' firing, Wojtaszek said he wants pre-termination acts by Soos and Smith, his boss, looked at by the administration committee.

Smith terminated Soos' part-time patronage employment with the board the day after Nick Forster was elected chairman of the county Democratic committee. Soos and Forster had quarreled during the nomination proceedings and Soos backed someone else for chairman.

After learning he'd been denied unemployment benefits by the state labor department, Soos put the county on notice he may sue over his termination. Labor's benefits denial notice informed Soos he'd been fired for cause — misconduct, based on his actions at the party reorganization meeting, where he was said to be serving in a county capacity.

The administration committee will examine both of Wojtaszek's complaints when it meets next week.