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No crime found in election probe

The Warren County District Attorney’s office has closed a criminal investigation into the 2019 election.

The investigation commenced after a candidate for county commissioner – Connie Zaffino, who ran as a write-in candidate – wrote a letter to President Judge Maureen Skerda that levied a series of allegations against county elections officials and their management of the election.

The letter was also provided to District Attorney Rob Greene’s office, which triggered an investigation, and was posted on social media

“After a thorough investigation by Chief County Detective Brian Zeybel into the criminal allegations brought by an unsuccessful candidate, we have determined that there was no criminal conduct on the part of anyone involved in the 2019 Warren County election,” District Attorney Rob Greene told the Times Observer on Tuesday morning.

Zaffino indicated that her intent was to “not have these issues occur again.” She said that she believed “they all had the effect of suppressing voting.”

Warren County Director of Elections Lisa Rivett and Solicitor Nathaniel Schmidt provided written responses to Zaffino’s complaint.

Rivett agreed that the county should endeavor to avoid the problems that arose during the election.

“The best we can do is to use what we learned during the election under investigation to improve the performance of poll workers, as well as voting equipment, in subsequent elections.”

In her complaint, Zaffino enumerated 12 separate items:

1. that people were not notified that there would be new voting machines… for “a very important election”;

2. not enough machines;

3. a lack of appropriate paper for the new equipment;

4. that the machines notified voters who undervoted, but did not notify them of overvoting;

5. a shortage of paper ballots;

6. long lines at polling places;

7. delays caused by printers that broke down;

8. that some voting machines were not working when the polls opened;

9. that votes handwritten on copy paper were not counted;

10. that the website warrenvotes.org — which publicly displays the voting results for the county — is administered by Commissioner Jeff Eggleston, and that there were concerns about numbers that appeared thereon;

11. some write-in votes for Zaffino were not accepted due to problems with the first name, while multiple variants of another candidate’s name, including a nickname, were accepted; and

12. that groups of people helping Director of Elections Lisa Rivett on Election Night “have displayed a willingness to do other’s bidding” and were therefore suspect.

Solicitor Nathaniel Schmidt and Director of Elections Lisa Rivett responded in writing to each of the concerns and Schmidt added “legal observation and factual background” regarding some of the items.

Rivett did not dispute in her response that the election did not go as well as she would have liked.

“I agree that the lines… and wait times… were extremely long at some precincts,” Rivett wrote. “We handled that as best we could. The length of wait times was not acceptable on a regular basis. That being said, every person that waited in line until it was their turn to vote was able to do so and had their vote properly adjudicated.”

That “most” had half as many machines, was not accurate, Rivett wrote, but there were fewer machines in some precincts than there had been in previous years. “Due to the high cost to the county…” Rivett and Commissioner Jeff Eggleston recommended a lower total number of voting machines to the board of elections.

Schmidt wrote there are proper channels Zaffino could have gone through if she wished to challenge the decisions of the board. The deadlines for those challenges was long past when she sent the letter, he said.

“Even is Ms. Zaffino had been awarded every vote in her favor that required adjudication, her final count would still have been far less than what would have been required to have her declared the winner,” Schmidt wrote.

“The Warren County Election Board, Director of Elections and other candidates/parties named in the said allegations,” Greene continued, “are cleared of any criminal wrongdoing which may have been insinuated by said unsuccessful candidate.

“My office now considered this matter closed.”

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