Legislature candidate Keith Hannon gives a statement after a Board of Elections hearing July 31.

ITHACA, N.Y. — District 5 candidate for Tompkins County Legislature Keith Hannon may be off the ballot on the Independence Party line after an objection to his designating petition.

Hannon filed his designating petition July 12. Five days later, an Ithaca resident in Hannon’s district filed an objection to his petition after finding a “material alteration without an explanation” on a page, according to Stephen Dewitt, Democratic Commissioner for the Tompkins County Board of Elections.

Dewitt said it appeared a number was written over. At a hearing Monday, the two commissioners of the Board of Elections ruled the objection was valid. As a result, the page containing 20 signatures was stricken which brought the number of Hannon’s valid signatures down to nine. He needs 13 to be on the ballot.

If there is an alteration on designating petitions, Dewitt said, people generally would attach a signed letter explaining the alteration.

“These petitions are — we never emphasize it enough — they are legal documents and are subject to scrutiny,” Dewitt said. “In this case that’s what happened.”

Related: Ithaca College alumnus runs for District 5 Tompkins County legislator

In a video statement after the hearing Monday, Hannon said the “alteration” is a stray pen mark next to the number of total signatures on the page.

Standing outside the Tompkins County Board of Elections, Hannon opened his statement saying, “It is a beautiful day in Ithaca, but unfortunately it’s a very ugly day for the democratic process.”

The objection to Hannon’s petition was raised by Ithaca resident Jeffrey Silber, who said he was doing his due diligence by going through petitions as a private citizen active in the political scene. Silber said he is a member of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee, but said he goes through petitions every year on his own volition.

“I am a member of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee, but again this is not part of my work as the Tompkins County Democratic Committee,” Silber said.

This election cycle, Silber said he examined petitions for five candidates.

“I’m active in the local political scene. The petitioning process is part of that. And the whole petitioning system is built on a foundation of trust. A petition is valid on its face and unless someone challenges something they see as wrong, not complying with the rules and the laws of the state, the petition is accepted. So they rely on registered voters to challenge petitions to determine whether or not it is in compliance with the rules, the rules that apply to all candidates,” Silber said.

On Hannon’s petition, Silber said it appeared that the witness signature on one of the pages of petitions was altered and there was no explanation or initialing for the change. Explaining changes is “necessary to prevent fraud,” Silber said.

No other objections to petitions have been filed this election cycle, according to the Tompkins County Board of Elections. Dewitt said objections are not unusual, but there is usually one or less a year.

Hannon’s petitions. Provided by the Tompkins County Board of Elections.
Hannon’s petitions. Provided by the Tompkins County Board of Elections.

Hannon, who does not have a background in law, claims he was targeted by people with a legal background in the Democratic Committee in an effort to throw him off the ballot.

“We didn’t get into this to deal with politics as usual. And this is the definition of politics as usual,” Hannon said.

Dewitt said the Board of Elections works with candidates before petitions are due to try to prevent errors. Dewitt said Hannon might not have known that a mark on a page would be an issue.

Kathy Zahler, director of communications for the Tompkins County Democratic Committee, said the objection to Hannon’s petitions was not an effort by the committee to get him off the ballot. Zahler said anyone can challenge a ballot.

“We typically go out and get a third more signatures than we need for exactly this reason because Republicans will throw us off for any little thing. It’s not an usual situation,” Zahler said.

Despite the Board of Elections ruling, Hannon said he will continue to fight for the District 5 seat. Hannon is challenging Democratic candidate Anne Koreman for the seat. Incumbent Jim Dennis is not seeking re-election.

Hannon said he plans to appeal the decision by the Tompkins County Board of Elections. If the decision is appealed, he will remain on the ballot on the Independence line. Otherwise, he will have to run as an independent candidate and get enough signatures by Aug. 22.

To get on the ballot as an independent candidate, Hannon needs 135 signatures from people of any party in his district who have not previously signed a petition.

“We will go after an independent line and we will most likely appeal this decision. We will find a way to afford an attorney even though one has not been appointed for us. You don’t get those in politics like you do when you commit a crime, unfortunately. Because that’s what our democracy is worth,” Hannon said. “But we will fight on. We knew this wouldn’t be easy. And it hasn’t been easy. But we believe people deserve a choice.”

Update 4:34 p.m. — Photo added of bottom of Hannon’s petition that was stricken by the Tompkins County Board of Elections.

Featured image: Screenshot of Hannon’s statement video on Facebook.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.