The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • DA: Farrand ‘unethical,’ not criminal

  • Four political candidates in the Town of Rathbone took advantage of voters during the 2011 general election, but their actions did not arise to the level of criminal conduct, a special prosecutor has determined.

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  • Four political candidates in the Town of Rathbone took advantage of voters during the 2011 general election, but their actions did not arise to the level of criminal conduct, a special prosecutor has determined.
    The office of Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore spent months investigating Rathbone’s 2011 election results after voters returned an unusually high number of absentee ballots -- 97, or about four times as many as usual. Some of the ballot applications appeared to contain identical handwriting.
    At the center of the investigation were Dan Farrand, Lanny Newell, Steven Kirk and Duane Miles. The four were the largest beneficiaries of absentee votes.
    Farrand (117 machine votes, 95 absentee), a Steuben County legislator, won election as town supervisor, and Newell (136, 85) won a seat on the town board. Kirk (72, 84) and Miles (61, 52) were unsuccessful in their bids for highway superintendent and councilman, respectively.
    During an interview with New York State Police in June, Newell said that prior to the election, the four candidates would meet bi-weekly at Farrand’s house to discuss how to reach potential voters.
    During one of the meetings, Farrand suggested using absentee ballots to reach more voters, Newell said.
    Farrand said the candidates could fill out absentee applications for voters -- the reason many applications contained identical handwriting -- as long as the applicant signed his or her own name, Newell said, according to the report.
    While pushing the absentee idea, the four engaged in conduct “that may be perceived as reprehensible and ethically problematic, but not criminal,” Wetmore’s report said.
    According to Wetmore’s report, many of the voters who used absentee ballots at the behest of the candidates said they were out of town on election day, when in fact they were not. Absentee ballots may only be used when a voter can not make it to the polls because of: Absence from the county, illness or disability, duties related to the care of the ill or the disabled, incarceration, or admission into a Veteran’s Administration hospital.
    Also, some voters approached by the candidates said their ballots already contained names (write-ins) of who to vote for, or the candidate checked the ballot boxes for the voter, according to the report. None of the voters, however, said they were forced to vote for any particular candidate.
    Additionally, some of the voters said the candidates gave them inaccurate information about the legality of the process.
    Despite the “concerning” actions of the candidates, their conduct wasn’t criminal, Wetmore said. Wetmore was considering misdemeanor charges against the four.
    “It would be disingenuous for me to say that I believe the aforementioned candidates ran a clean campaign under the circumstances outlined in this report,” Wetmore said. “We concluded that since all of the voters swore under the penalty of perjury as to the accuracy of their absentee ballots, it would be impossible to prove at trial that the candidates knew such applications at the time contained false statements. The individual voters themselves were ultimately responsible for the information provided on each of these absentee ballots.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Wetmore said there was no evidence any of the candidates forged signatures, and he said none of the voters will be charged.
    “I choose not to do so because as I already stated, I believe the prospective voters were taken advantage of by these candidates,” Wetmore said. “Perhaps in light of this report, voters will think twice before signing such documents verifying certain information that is not true. This report perhaps will also serve as a clarion call to candidates and voters, alike, that elections should not be won in murky fashion by opportunists, but instead in fair election campaigns where all candidates and voters, alike, follow the law.”
    Wetmore’s office conducted the review because Farrand is a member of the Steuben County Legislature Public Safety Committee, which has oversight responsibility for the Steuben County District Attorney’s Office.
    When reached for comment Wednesday, Farrand said: “I’m glad it’s over, as I believe there was no criminal wrongdoing on our part. We did an aggressive absentee ballot campaign. The special prosecutor may not have liked it, but in my opinion, it is what it is. I’m sincerely glad it’s over with. It’s been a long, long, affair.”

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