December 6, 2021

Changes to tally in GOP caucus ruled out

Disputed race in Harford goes to incumbent highway super by one vote

Cortland Standard file photo

Motorists drive through Harford near town hall in this file photo from 2008.

It was after the Harford Republican caucus was over, and only a handful of people were still in town hall, when Elizabeth Larkin, a Harford Republican committee member, realized something was wrong.

Committee Secretary Barb Stoner had just counted 40 paper ballots to nominate a candidate for town highway supervisor. Thirty-six Harford Republicans had been in the room.

Caucuses can be informal, and there are no restrictions on attendance. Forty-two people turned up, some Democrats and unaffiliated voters, but only 36 were eligible to vote.

One Democrat in attendance was Jack Holcomb, the incumbent town highway supervisor, who was running as a Republican in the caucus. Holcomb won the nomination Tuesday by one vote.

In a three-way race, Holcomb received 16 votes, and challengers Nickolas Marsh and Scott Stairs got 15 and 9 votes, respectively.

Given the four-vote discrepancy, Tuesday’s mistake — or cheating, Marsh alleges — could have cost Marsh the Republican nomination. Marsh, an enrolled Republican, was upset by the results, and he called the county Board of Elections to find out if the caucus vote could be redone.

No, apparently. That’s the official word from Bob Howe, Republican elections commissioner, who checked with the state Board of Elections regarding state election law on caucuses.

Howe said the county election board is not permitted to invalidate caucus results and call a new one, even if there are allegations of mistakes or possible cheating.

“It’s not up to us at all,” said Howe, adding the county elections board must accept the caucus tally. “We take it, we file it, and that’s it.”

Marsh does have one recourse, Howe said: He, or any other Republican town resident who was at the caucus, can file a lawsuit, at personal expense, to invalidate the caucus within 15 days of the caucus.

Marsh said that’s not going to happen. “I’m not going to do that,” he said. “That’s too expensive.”

Marsh, however, won’t give up on trying to win election as town highway supervisor, a post that pays $47,000 per year, he said.

Marsh, a press operator for the Cortland Standard, said he will try to garner the Democratic nomination. This is permissible, despite Marsh being a Republican, said Tim Perfetti, Cortland County Democratic Committee chairman. It is not uncommon for Republicans to run in Democratic town caucuses, and vice versa.

If running as a Democrat doesn’t work out, Marsh said he plans to run as a write-in candidate.

Tuesday’s vote was done informally, said Larkin, who was in charge of the caucus. Larkin said she repeated that only Republican town residents were eligible to vote.

The eligible caucus voters, however, were not separated from the others in attendance. Also, individual ballots were not issued, she said.

Instead, each table had Post-It notes and pens. Voters were instructed to take a piece of paper and a pen. Papers were then put in a hat that was passed around the room.

Larkin said she told the voters they were on their honor, but now wishes she hadn’t been so trusting.

Connie White, Cortland County Republican Committee chairwoman, said that Marsh still stands a shot at winning the election in November.

“If you’re good at communicating with the voter, then it’s not over until Nov. 5 at 9 o’clock. The beat goes on,” she said. “If I were Nickolas, I would not be discouraged at all. With a 16-15 caucus, that’s pretty doggone good.”

Jack Holcomb and Scott Stairs could not be reached for comment.