TUPPER LAKE - The New York state Board of Elections says Sunmount residents brought to the polls here by staff of the state institution might be within their rights to vote, even if they were deemed incompetent to stand trial for crimes.
Last week, Tupper Lake resident and former Sunmount employee David McMahon expressed concern Sumount staff took people to the polls who aren't eligible to vote. McMahon worked for Sunmount for 23 years before retiring three years ago.
"My issue is the people who are sent here under a 730 status," McMahon said. "The majority of the people at Sunmount have that status."
McMahon was referring to New York Criminal Procedure Law, article 730, which deems someone accused of a crime incompetent to stand trial pending further review. Those given 730 status are sent to a facility like Sunmount, where they are educated on the legal system. If it is determined they still aren't competent to stand trial, they could remain at the facility instead of returning to court.
The problem, McMahon said, is that since the accused can't stand trial, they can't be found guilty of a crime.
"Sex offenders that get sent there under the 730 status have never actually been found guilty of child molestation or a sexual offense of any kind, so they don't have to register as a sex offender," McMahon said. "That still doesn't make any of their crimes less hideous."
McMahon added that some people avoided the polls when they saw state vans there.
"It's not like Albany, where you have 100,000 people going to the polling booth," McMahon said. "Everybody knows everybody in Tupper Lake, and when you see a state van pull in with four or five people in it, you know it comes from Sunmount."
McMahon's other concern is that Sunmount residents from outside the area might be voting in an election they know little about. This year's ballot had no federal or state leaders on it - just town, village and county.
"The people there at Sunmount have no idea of what the issues that are facing our town are," McMahon said. "If you ask them what restaurant in Tupper Lake has the best pizza or wings, they could tell you with no problem. But you ask them about the budget or the Adirondack Club and Resort or the rail-trail issue, those are big issues in Tupper Lake; they couldn't even tell you what the ACR is."
An email sent to the Enterprise from Denise M. DeCarlo, the deputy director of communications for the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, indicated that Sunmount would not comment on this issue.
McMahon said he brought his concerns to the Franklin County Board of Elections but didn't get anywhere.
"They told me that they sympathize with what's being said, and they've been fighting on this for years; they just haven't been able to get anywhere with it," McMahon said.
County Board of Elections commissioners Kelly Cox and Veronica King acknowledged that McMahon had called them, and said there was nothing they can do.
"For us to make a decision on a vote or something, we can do that if we have all the backup and all that," Cox said. "But to deny somebody the right to vote with no backup? We have no legal basis to do that. We're not attorneys."
The commissioners both said they are strictly an administrative board, but they could bring a complaint to the county attorney.
"We know where the 730 is coming from, but there's nothing on file here," King said.
McMahon said he will be in Malone next week to file a formal complaint with the Board of Elections there.
"It's the Board of Elections' job to make sure somebody is eligible to vote," McMahon said. "It's not my job, so why are they saying there's nothing they can do?"
State Board of Elections Communication Director John Conklin said there is a provision in the state Election Law that says if someone has been judged incompetent under court, they're not eligible to vote.
According to Article 5106, Subdivision 6 of the Election Law, "no person who has been adjudged incompetent by order of a court of competent judicial authority shall have the right to register for or vote at any election in this state unless thereafter he has been adjudged competent pursuant to law."
"We do get a list from the Office of Court Administration on people who are adjudicated mental incompetent," Conklin said. "I have no idea if there's even people on it once a month, because it's a very small number that we've had since the statewide voter registration system started in 2007. What we get is then sent to the counties, and they make a determination if the people we've sent them from OCA is in fact a match for a voter in their county, and if it is, they would cancel them."
Conklin added that he wasn't sure if the OCA or a local election board would look at an article 730 person as adjudicated mentally incompetent because some of those orders are temporary.
"I don't believe anything that's temporary fits within the definition of (article) 5106, because that says you've been adjudicated a mental incompetent, which to me means permanently," Conklin said.
He added that anyone from outside the area would have to register in Franklin County to legally be eligible to vote.
"I don't believe a temporary residence qualifies under the law to be registered, so I don't believe that the county board should accept that registration," Conklin said. "If somebody challenged those voters, the local board would have to make a determination as to whether they fall within section 5106 or not."
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