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Doheny surrogate files lawsuit against Owens’ third-party petitions

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A north country Republican official has filed a lawsuit — with claims buttressed by a private investigator’s inquiry — to challenge Rep. William L. Owens’ attempt to appear on the Working Families Party line on Nov. 6.

The court case, filed on Tuesday by Donald F. Lee in state Supreme Court in Saratoga County, underscores the importance of third-party lines in close races like the expected rematch between Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Republican Matthew A. Doheny.

“If you’re very passionate about certain issues that I’m passionate about, and you lost an election by very few votes the last time, you don’t want to leave anything to chance,” said Mr. Lee, who is the Clinton County GOP chairman and an early supporter of Mr. Doheny.

To get on a party’s ballot in New York, candidates must get a certain number of valid signatures from members of that party. The Owens campaign collected 94 Working Families Party signatures, according to Mr. Lee. Sixty were required.

But Mr. Lee alleged that more than 50 of those signatures were faulty. Mr. Owens’s campaign manager did not respond to a request for comment.

The state Board of Elections ruled Tuesday on some of the challenges, a spokesman said, but could not say what the ruling was, nor could either campaign.

Those challenges only had to do with issues like whether a signee was actually a party member or whether the person’s address was correct.

But the court challenge opens up a new front for the Doheny surrogate, who claims 25 of the signees were not properly administered an oath.

Petitions can be collected by members of the party whose ballot line is being sought, or by a notary public. By state law, notary publics must administer an oath to verify that the people whose signatures they’re witnessing are who they really say they are.

If the notary public didn’t administer that oath, the signatures could be thrown out.

Mr. Lee said “prominent Republicans” had paid for McKee and Associates, a Malone-based private investigation firm, to look into the signatures. The company’s investigation showed 25 people said an oath wasn’t administered, or that they didn’t remember if an oath was administered. Mr. Lee declined to name who paid for the investigation. A private investigation is an unusual method of challenging petitions.

The Supreme Court will hold a hearing May 8 on Mr. Lee’s lawsuit. The Board of Elections will rule Thursday on the original challenges.

Third-party endorsements can be critical lifelines for candidates. In his 2010 race, Mr. Owens took in more than 6,000 votes on the labor-backed party’s line; he only won by 1,995.

Mr. Doheny’s petitions to get on the Independence Party line are also being challenged, but no Democrat has filed a lawsuit to support that challenge. A hearing before the Board of Elections is slated for Thursday.

Mr. Doheny will face Kellie A. Greene in a Republican primary June 26. He has the endorsements of the Conservative and Independence parties already, all but assuring his presence on the Nov. 6 ballot.

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