Ed Wagner and Greg Rigby believe the race for Owasco Town Supervisor is no longer just about winning, it's about preserving the right to vote.
Wagner, Owasco's incumbent supervisor, and Rigby, the Cayuga County Conservative Party's chairman, recently sued the Cayuga County Board of Elections in the hopes that a judge will rule two absentee ballots deemed invalid by the board should be counted.
The matter initially appeared Wednesday in Cayuga County Court. Wagner said Judge Mark Fandrich adjourned the hearing to Tuesday, Dec. 3 after County Attorney Fred Westphal requested more time.
In a statement released Wednesday, Rigby stated he and Wagner decided to sue the county to ensure that the two unopened ballots — cast by George King, a World War II veteran, and his wife — are counted.
"It is unconscionable to think that a World War II veteran who served in the Army Air Corps, a respected businessman (surveyor), and member of this community for most of his 93 years cannot have his and his beloved wife's votes counted," Rigby wrote.
Speaking on Friday, Wagner agreed.
"The primary reason for the lawsuit against the Board of Elections is to support the voting rights of Mr. King and all voters," he said. "Mr. King ... defended his country. Now it's our responsibility to return his rights and privileges, and to have his vote counted."
The plaintiffs argue that the Kings' ballots are valid. Katie Lacey, Democratic commissioner of the BOE, asserts that the two ballots — which were sent together in a large, sealed envelope — were each place in unsealed envelopes and cannot legally be counted.
"It's very clear in the Election Law that you cannot count unsealed ballots," Lacey previously said.
The fight for the town office's top spot extended beyond the voting booth on Election Day after an initial tally put Wagner, a Republican, four votes ahead of challenger John Socci, a Democrat, 678-674 — rendering the race too close to call.
One week later, a count of absentee ballots narrowed the Owasco election to 710-709, putting Wagner ahead of Socci by one vote. But with 11 contested votes, Lacey cautioned that the race was not yet over.
In an attempt to avoid going to court, Socci and Wagner agreed to open and count the contested ballots.
Eight of the 11 contested ballots were deemed valid, earning five votes for Socci and three votes for Wagner. The count put Socci ahead of Wagner by one vote in a new 714-713 tally.
Three of the ballots were judged as invalid and tossed — one that was cast by an unregistered voter, and the two cast by the Kings.
Arguing that the BOE violated its agreement by tossing the two votes that arrived together, Wagner sued the county's Board of the Elections. He believes the court should open the Kings' ballots.
Wagner said King submitted an affidavit and appeared in court Wednesday, willing to testify that he "sealed his envelopes, and helped seal his wife's."
With the Owasco election still undecided, Wagner said the Kings' ballots should be counted — no matter the outcome.
"Regardless of who the Kings voted for, Greg Rigby and I have a moral duty to fight for the Kings," he said.
Socci could not immediately be reached for comment. But the Democratic contender previously said counting invalid ballots would violate Election Law.
Socci also speculated that if Wagner decided to take the matter to court, he must be confident the two votes would fall in his favor.
"He must be sure that they voted for him, the three that were dismissed," Socci said. "Just the way they're fighting for it, they must be sure they voted for him."