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Erie County elections officials put ballot certification on hold, as it awaits latest in mayoral race dispute

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The Erie County Board of Elections is holding off on certifying the full November ballot for the City of Buffalo, as it awaits developments in federal court on whether Byron Brown stays on the ballot.

By law, the ballot was to be certified Sept. 9. All races, according to Erie County Republican Election Commissioner Ralph Mohr, are set to go, except the contested Buffalo mayor’s race.

“Ironically, the statute which was enacted, that moved all the filing dates up, was to avoid a situation in which we would be unable to certify the ballot because there would still be cases in litigation,” Mohr said. “It's rather ironic that it is now the cause of our inability to certify the full ballot.”

At issue is whether the incumbent, Byron Brown, is to be allowed on the general election ballot on an independent line. Back in June, the four-term mayor was upset in the Democratic Primary, losing to India Walton.

Brown’s campaign then carried on as a write-in campaign, until petitions were collected in an attempt to place him on the ballot on an independent party line, the “Buffalo Party.” The Board of Elections rejected the petitions, ruling that they were submitted past the deadline, which had been changed this year to an earlier date.

Late last week, federal judge John Sinatra ordered that Brown be placed on the ballot, ruling that the new deadline was unfair to independent campaigns. Critics of the decision say Sinatra should not have been allowed to preside over the Brown campaign’s appeal, because his brother – local developer Nick Sinatra – has close ties to the Brown campaign.

On Wednesday, a State judge issued an order for the Erie County Board of Elections to not certify the ballot pending unresolved legal disputes.

The board plans to begin mailing absentee ballots beginning late next week to military members and federal employees who are Buffalo residents. Mohr says in the event a court decision comes down after those ballots are mailed, the board will then send out a second version of the ballot along with a written explanation explaining why the updated form was sent.

“That’s certainly not a preferred scenario,” he said. “And it causes a great deal of confusion among voters. It then questions what ballots we receive back, what happens when we receive more than one ballot back, and what happens if the ballot that is sent back is not the final version that the court set. But that's a matter of counting. And that's a matter which can be litigated after the election.”

Mohr says 187 federal employees and military personnel would be affected by changed absentee ballots.