Monday, January 17, 2022

Merlino leads; votes found in machine

By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer

The Lake Luzerne Town Supervisor race flipped in favor of incumbent Eugene “Gene” Merlino over Republican Dan Waterhouse when Friday’s recount revealed 14 write-in ballots that had been “misdirected” by the voting machine to the general ballot bin instead of the separate bin for write-in ballots, said Warren County Board of Elections officials.

These ballots lifted Mr. Merlino to an unofficial lead of 459 to Republican nominee/councilman Dan Waterhouse’s 451.

Initial results, after absentees, showed Mr. Waterhouse leading by a margin of less than 20 votes, which triggered an automatic recount.

The Chronicle asked Mr. Merlino if he thinks the election dispute is over.

“No,” Mr. Merlino said. “They’ll file a thing with the Supreme Court. They accused us of stuffing the ballot boxes and finding votes after. They just don’t know what they’re talking about.”

He added, “It’s a simple explanation…We didn’t find them laying in a bag around the side of the street. They were still in the machine.”

“When we counted the absentees, and we counted the write-ins, I was five votes short. Now the state law says you’re five votes short, anything under 20 votes short, complete re-audit of every vote,” he said.

“If I lost by 21 votes, they would have never opened that machine until sometime at the end of the year.”

“I’m disheartened,” Mr. Waterhouse told The Chronicle Monday evening but “I’m not going to concede.” But he seemed to indicate a legal challenge was unlikely, citing difficulty in finding an elections attorney to take the case and the cost.

Mr. Waterhouse said the result “stinks” and he suggests wrongdoing by Republican “good old boys” aiding Mr. Merlino.

“If the story hadn’t changed so many times…First of all, it’s a convenient glitch. Then they’re stuck in the machine, I heard, and then the writing was too light, that they didn’t register properly…These were rumors I was hearing from the County all day long from a real good source at the County,” he said.

Mr. Waterhouse claimed he was not notified when the recount would take place until he called County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Bill VanNess. “And I only knew because I heard Gene say it in the board meeting,” he added.

The Election Commissioner Mr. VanNess insists that a letter was sent, and also emailed, to all Lake Luzerne candidates including Mr. Waterhouse on Nov. 16, informing them of the Nov. 19 recount.

“Also, because of the fear that it would not be received by the candidates in time, each candidate was called via telephone with Deputy Commissioner Ross, Colin and Commissioner VanNess present,” Mr. VanNess said in email to The Chronicle.

Mr. Waterhouse said he spoke to an elections official elsewhere who he says deemed the late change in the result “either incompetence or fraud, but if that’s the case Bill [VanNess] should be removed,” Mr. Waterhouse said. He accused Mr. VanNess of “lack of assistance with me through the whole process… and me being the endorsed Republican.”

“When they say it’s hard to beat city hall, I learned it is. It was not lined up in my favor,” said Mr. Waterhouse. “If I do run again in two years I’ll know what to do in advance. I’ll have an attorney.”

Mr. Waterhouse said, “I objected to 15 of Gene’s votes when we were in the recount, because they just said last names and that’s not the law. It’s very clear. It has first and last name.”

“If you vote for Waterhouse, there could be 10 different Waterhouses,” he said.

Mr. Waterhouse and Mr. Merlino have had a contentious race.

Mr. Merlino initially said he would not run for reelection. He was accused of many and serious financial improprieties by the other members of the Town Council, including Mr. Waterhouse. They asked the State Comptroller to come investigate.

Mr. Merlino denied wrongdoing, and the allegations prompted him to mount a write-in campaign to retain his post.

“I love my job. I think I’ve done it to the best of my ability. And everything they threw at me all these allegations, they have not one proven yet. Anything,” Mr. Merlino said.

“It’s seven months now that the state’s investigating me, and they have yet to call me and say, ‘Look, we want to talk to you about a, b and c,’ you know, nothing.”

Although Mr. Merlino appears to have won, his aligned write-in candidates running for town council all lost, continuing his isolation on the Luzerne Town Board.

“I got a board that votes against me no matter what I do. If I say yes, they say no, if I say no, they say yes,” Mr. Merlino said.

Mr. Waterhouse seemed to confirm this assessment, saying, “I have four board members who will make Gene’s life hard.” He also used the word “miserable.”

Mr. Waterhouse said, “If he does get the felony counts that I think he will get, I’m sure the board would appoint me,” to the supervisor’s seat if it’s vacated.

“And believe it or not,” Mr. Waterhouse added, “you know I had 450 votes, you got 450 pissed off people that think it was rigged. And he’s getting called out in town already for it.”

Mr. Merlino, 77, says, “I don’t know how long I can put up with it for my own health. My blood pressure can’t go up and I can’t get frustrated and depressed over it. I can’t. I’ll do the best I can…If it wasn’t that I respect highly all the people — 459 of them had to spend the time to write my name at the bottom of that ballot — I would basically tell them to stick it.”

“My wife’s upset very much because she was actually hoping I’d lose,” he chuckled.

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