Spin Cycle

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A candidate for Smithtown town clerk said town Republican Party chairman Bill Ellis tried to undermine his campaign by distributing nominating petitions he knew could be considered invalid because they misspelled the candidate’s name.

Conrad Chayes Sr. said that for almost a week last month Ellis distributed petitions that misspelled his name as “Chase,” even though Ellis got an email warning him of the error. Ellis said he never got the email.

“When you can’t win an election at the ballot box, you resort to subterfuge,” Chayes said. In an interview, Ellis called Chayes’ claims “absolutely incorrect,” though he did not rule out challenging the faulty petitions in the future.

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Chayes is challenging incumbent Vincent Puleo, Ellis’ preferred candidate. Both men are seeking the Republican nomination, but Chayes’ accusation covers petitions for the Independence Party, which endorsed mostly the Republican candidates Ellis favors this year and is relying on Republicans to carry its petitions because of its modest manpower.

It was not clear how many misspelled petitions might have circulated, or if those petitions would, in fact, be considered invalid if challenged. Republican Commissioner of the Suffolk County Board of Elections Nick LaLota suggested they would hold up, writing in an email that “the board or a court is unlikely to invalidate the Chayes petition based on the misspelling, so long as the candidate submits a letter to the board noting the scrivener’s error.”

The deadline for submission of petitions to the Board of Elections is July 13. Candidates need 181 signatures from Independence Party voters to get on the ballot on that party’s line. There are roughly 3,600 Independence Party voters in the town, about a tenth the number of registered Republicans, but Chayes said the party’s voters could be decisive.

“They get between 400 to 600 votes on Election Day,” he said. “If you’re having a tight race, it could mean the margin of victory.”

Independence Party chairwoman Linda Donnelly said she preferred to stay out of what she said was a “he said, he said” matter. “I just wish it to be an honest election and no bad-mouthing,” she said.

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The petition dispute follows a floor fight at town Republicans’ spring nominating convention between supporters of incumbent Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio, including Chayes, and an alternate slate topped by Councilman Ed Wehrheim. After that slate won party support, thanks in part to proxy votes that Ellis controlled, Vecchio’s supporters promised a primary battle.