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Tim Kennedy sues to keep Nate McMurray off primary ballot over petition defects

The left side of the image shows Nate McMurray standing in front of an American flag. The right side of the image shows Tim Kennedy speaking at an event with another person in the background.
Courtesy of Nate McMurray and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York
Former Grand Island town supervisor Nate McMurray (left) and State Senator Tim Kennedy (right) are the only two candidates running in the Democratic primary for the 26th Congressional District.

State Senator Tim Kennedy is asking a state court to remove former Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray’s name from the ballot in this summer’s Democratic primary for New York’s 26th Congressional District because of alleged defects in McMurray’s electoral petition.

In court documents filed Friday, Kennedy and Buffalo resident Rogerleen Williamson say that 1,071 of the 1,453 signatures in McMurray’s petition were invalid, alleging that most of the signatures were either gathered by an ineligible canvasser or under circumstances “constituting fraud.” Under state law, candidates need 1,250 valid signatures to appear on the primary ballot.

If successful, the lawsuit would ensure that only Kennedy — who was endorsed by the Erie County Democratic Party in January — appears on the Democratic primary ballot. Besides McMurray and Kennedy, no other Democratic candidates have filed to run and are still actively campaigning, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

“They have a conclusion, they’re going to find reasons for that conclusion no matter what because they don’t want us on the ballot,” McMurray said in a phone call Sunday morning. “And be the real question here is: what’s the underlying issue? Is someone really worried about my petition? I don’t think so. They’re really worried about me being on the ballot because they know he [Kennedy] might lose.”

According to court documents, Desmond Abrams — a progressive political consultant whose firm, Transformative Solutions, was commissioned by McMurray to gather petition signatures — signed the “statement of witness” on all 73 pages of McMurray’s petition. That indicates that Abrams witnessed all 1,453 eligible voters sign the petition over the course of nearly a month.

Kennedy’s lawsuit asserts that Abrams didn’t witness every signature, describing the notion that he did as “a false representation constituting fraud.”

McMurray says that Abrams, who “does this professionally,” did collect all those signatures. The two decided to just send in the signatures Abrams collected because they were “one hundred percent sure” that those signatures were collected properly. He accused Kennedy of reflexively objecting to his petition “before ever seeing” it in a “shameful” attempt to “prevent choice and democracy.”

“The truth of the matter is we tried to do everything right. We literally parsed through all the petitions we got and said, ‘Listen, these are the ones we know are good,’” McMurray said. “Again, the second we handed this in, they were their trigger-ready to oppose them. That is crazy. To me, that’s fraud.”

McMurray submitted his petition to the Board of Elections on April 4. Kennedy filed his objections on the following Monday, April 8.

Kennedy’s lawyers submitted five sworn affidavits from signatories of McMurray’s petition, all of whom say that “Abrams was not present” when they signed. The lawsuit also says that “multiple pages of signatures” are invalid because they were collected by a registered Republican who only signed the statement of witness on one page of the petition.

“We have 1,500-plus signatures. So, like, that’s five. OK, let’s get those five out of there,” McMurray said. “Can they disqualify 400? If they have 400 petitions, then we can talk. It’s dastardly.”

The suit also alleges that McMurray, an attorney and “seasoned political candidate,” should’ve known that many of the signatures on his petition weren’t valid under state election law. It includes four X posts that show McMurray’s direct participation in the process, including an April 4 post in which McMurray posted a picture of the “pages and pages of signatures we collected.”

A lawyer representing Kennedy in the case declined to comment, saying he was unauthorized to speak on the matter.

The New York State Board of Elections is set to decide the validity of McMurray’s petition on May 1, but Kennedy is asking the court to intervene as early as possible ahead of the primary on June 25. A State Supreme Court justice is slated to hear the case on Thursday.

Kennedy is running against West Seneca Town Supervisor Gary Dickson, a Republican, in a special election on April 30. Whoever wins that election will immediately go to Washington to serve out the remaining seven months of Representative Brian Higgins’ term. Higgins stepped down from Congress in February to become the president of Shea’s Performing Arts Center.

McMurray attempted to get enough signatures to appear on the special election ballot as an independent candidate, but he ultimately decided to stay out of the race, partly to prevent Dickson from winning on a split ticket.

Regardless of what happens in the special election, candidates will have to win their respective party primaries in June to appear on the general election ballot in November, and then win in November to get elected to a full term in Congress.