The nominating petitions of a pair of Hartland residents pursuing ballot lines in the Hartland town council elections were invalidated by the Niagara County Board of Elections on Tuesday.
Petitions filed by Cheryl Confer and Margaret Zaepfel, in pursuit of the Democratic, Republican and Conservative ballot lines, were challenged by incumbent Hartland council member David Huntington, a Republican who's pursuing reelection this year.
The basis of Huntington's challenge was the fact that Confer's and Zaepfel's petitions didn't state the name of the town in which they sought to run for office.
Confer and Zaepfel were represented in the Tuesday hearing by attorney Steve Cohen, head litigator for HoganWillig Attorneys at Law. Neither Huntington nor counsel for him were present at the hearing. Niagara County Attorney Claude Joerg represented the Board of Elections.
Joerg argued that Confer's and Zaepfel's petitions were not valid because they didn't state the town in which they intended to pursue election.
Cohen argued that "minor error" wasn't grounds for invalidating the petitions, and said he will appeal the board's decision in state Supreme Court.
In the hearing, Cohen said, “I presented 16 New York State Supreme Court cases, including one from the Court of Appeals, 11 from Appellate Divisions, and four from miscellaneous state Supreme Courts that stand with the proposition that a minor error in the petition that was not meant to defraud or deceive anyone, could not be the basis for (invalidation).
“Even though every person who signed the petition resided in the Town of Hartland and everyone who signed the petition knew the candidates … Claude Joerg claimed there was reasonable likelihood the people who signed the petition didn’t know they were signing a petition for a Town of Hartland Council (candidate). It said ‘councilman’ right on top; it had my clients' names, Confer and Zaepfel, it had their addresses.”
Election Commissioners Lora Allen (D) and Jennifer Sandonato (R) confirmed the reason for the board's ruling against Confer and Zaepfel. Further, Sandonato said, the commissioners did not initiate the challenge to their petitions.
“Everything is filed here at face value. We don’t even look into the petitions," Sandonato said. "It's up to people to object to those petitions and that’s when they are reviewed and a ruling is held on those objections and specifications.”
Confer and Zaepfel both expressed disappointment in the board's ruling.
Confer, a 23-year member of volunteer-run Tri-Town Ambulance, said she thought her candidacy was another way to help her community.
“Watching the process, now I see why people don’t want to run for office," she said. "I go to church, I think I lead a good life, I’m not out to deceive anyone and I went within a two-block radius of my home (for signatures). People all knew me, they welcomed me, it was very enjoyable going out and campaigning, until this happened.”
Zaepfel, a member of the Hartland Zoning Board of Appeals, said she's “not really all that shocked" by the ruling. “We did the best we could, but I think they were out for us to make a mistake.”