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Divisions deepen in Democratic elections commissioner fight

May 28, 2020

From left, Monroe County Legislators Rachel Barnhart, Linda Hasman, and Yversha Roman.
Credit Provided photos

A state judge will hear arguments Friday in a lawsuit intended to stop Democrats in the Monroe County Legislature from appointing a new county elections commissioner for their party.

In a peculiar twist, the judge will also hear arguments on a cross-claim filed Wednesday by three legislators.

The legislators, Rachel Barnhart, Linda Hasman, and Yversha Roman filed the cross-claim against Democratic Minority Leader Vince Felder and Monroe County Democratic Committee Chair Brittaney Wells.

Despite being named defendants in the case, their claim supports the plaintiffs suing them. They said they wanted to make sure their position was heard.

"We had no expectation that the lawyer representing the Legislature would make sure that our viewpoint was represented,” Barnhart said during a phone interview Thursday.

The claim emphasizes that each member of the “Concerned Caucus,” as the trio refers to itself in the filing, “has separately and publicly expressed support” for the Monroe County Democratic Committee to hold a convention to choose the county’s next Democratic Board of Elections commissioner.

The position of Democratic commissioner has been vacant since March 5, when the former commissioner, Colleen Anderson, resigned. Her deputy, LaShana Boose, has been the acting commissioner ever since, as required by state law.

State law also requires the Legislature to appoint a commissioner based on the party’s recommendation within 45 days of a vacancy occurring, or, if no recommendation is made, make an appointment on its own.

On March 6, the county party’s executive committee decided to hold a convention for members to vote on candidates, but it was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.

On May 8, with no recommendation having been made, Felder announced that the Democratic legislators would appoint an elections commissioner. His effort was met with a legal challenge from some party activists.

Wednesday’s filing by the three legislators asks the court to resolve the intra-party dispute about whether Monroe County Democratic Committee members still have time to vote on an elections commissioner.

In their filing, the legislators argue that an open election is more likely to produce an independent commissioner who will not favor one faction of the party over another. 

“If one faction of the party controls the BOE, they could have power over petitions, distribution of absentee ballot lists, polling sites, elections inspectors, and other election-related protocols that could be misused to create an uneven playing field here in Monroe County,” their filing read.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.