Challenge leaves Essex County clerk candidate short 9 signatures

ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County Clerk Joseph Provoncha is asking State Supreme Court to invalidate the designating petitions of Kari Ratliff, his opponent as he seeks re-election.

Both are Republicans, and Provoncha, the incumbent, is seeking to have Ratliff removed from the ballot for the June 25 primary election in Essex County.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Richard Meyer is hearing the case against the Essex County Board of Elections and Ratliff.

Following a hearing Monday, Meyer allowed Ratliff three days to show why her petitions should not be invalidated under State Election Law.

Ratliff said Tuesday she likely will not be able to prove her case and expects to be removed from the primary ballot.

“Honest things”

The reasons for invalidating signatures included:

¯ Names that didn’t match those on file

¯ Addresses that didn’t match

¯ Incorrect towns listed

¯ Signers who were not enrolled in the designating party, in this case, Republican.

“They were honest things,” Ratliff said. “That did it. I can’t say they’re wrong in their objections.”

Uphill battle

She said she’ll still run as an independent in the November general election.

“It’s an uphill battle when you’re on the independent line,” she said. “I have everything to win and nothing to lose by going forward.”

Essex County Democratic Election Commissioner Sue Montgomery-Corey said the Board of Elections invalidated Ratliff’s petitions after a hearing.

“Chelsea Merrihew filed a general objection to Ms. Ratliff’s petition, and that was followed six days later by specific objections to 144 of the 434 signatures,” Montgomery-Corey said.

“The two deputy commissioners researched the specific objections and presented their findings to the two commissioners, (Republican Commissioner) Allison McGahay and me.”

Very thorough

At the Board of Elections hearing, the commissioners reviewed the deputy commissioners’ findings.

“Of the 144 objections submitted, we determined that 68 of them were valid objections,” Montgomery-Corey said. “That meant that Ms. Ratliff’s petition was left with 366 valid signatures.

“She needs 375 for a valid petition.”

The Board of Elections had been served with an order to appear in Supreme Court at the request of Merrihew and Provoncha.

Attorney James Walsh of Albany represented the plaintiffs.

“When we went to court, Attorney Walsh recommended that the matter be postponed until Friday to give Ms. Ratliff time to seek counsel and file a request to reinstate her petition if she can prove that some of the people whose signatures were rejected did sign and should be included in the total needed,” Montgomery-Corey said.

Ratliff said she had gathered 59 signatures over the required number to be on the ballot.

“They (commissioners) felt 68 were valid objections,” she said. “I was nine short of having enough signatures to be on the ballot for the primary.”

Ratliff said she would have to demonstrate nine or more of the invalidated signatures are actually valid.

“If I can’t, Joe and Chelsea win the suit,” she said. “The Board of Elections was very thorough, very fair.”

Three days

Provoncha said he would reserve comment until after Friday’s Supreme Court hearing.

“She has three days to straighten out her (petition) mess,” he said Tuesday.

Provoncha was first elected clerk in 1991, and resides in North Hudson.

Ratliff lives in Westport. She is motor vehicle supervisor at the Essex County Department of Motor Vehicles, where she’s worked since 1996.

She was promoted to motor vehicle supervisor in 2005.