Natalie Sheppard intends to seek appointment as the Democratic Commissioner to the Monroe County Board of Elections.
In a letter to members of the Monroe County Democratic Committee dated May 4, Sheppard wrote, “Upholding the sanctity of voters’ rights to be civically engaged and choose their elected representatives is a top priority of mine. I also believe in creating and implementing policies that are justified in law and rooted in ethics. … Leveling the playing field for all candidates to exercise their right to run for office is paramount in ensuring that voters are not disenfranchised.”
The letter comes several days after State Supreme Court Justice J. Scott Odorisi dismissed Sheppard’s lawsuit against the Board of Elections over challenges to her signature petition for the 137th Assembly District primary.
Sheppard said her interest in the appointment to the Board of Elections is not a result of the board having invalidated enough signatures on her petitions to knock her off the ballot.
Sheppard was elected to the Rochester City School District Board of Education, and her term runs through 2021. She is a licensed master social worker.
The Board of Elections has a Republican and a Democratic commissioner. Colleen Anderson resigned in early March as the Democratic commissioner, and since then former Democratic deputy commissioner LaShana Boose has been the acting commissioner. It is up to the Democrats in the County Legislature to appoint a commissioner, said Democratic Minority Leader Vincent Felder, but he added that the caucus has not decided how it will proceed.
He said the Democratic legislators and the Monroe County Democratic Party “will work it out.”
He said it’s important to have a Democratic commissioner in place before the June primary. “The longer this drags on, the longer we don’t have a fully functioning Democratic side of the Board of Elections, that’s not fair to members of our party.”
Lisa Polito Nicolay is the Republican commissioner and Nancy L. Leven is the deputy. The Democratic side does not have a deputy.
Nicolay and Boose ruled in April that Sheppard’s petitions for candidacy in the 137th Assembly primary were invalid after they were challenged by Ruth Brooks Ward.
Among Ward’s specific objections were that signers were not registered Democrats, signers lived outside the district, changes to information about signers were not initialed by the person witnessing the signature.
Sheppard filed 226 signatures, but 79 signatures were disqualified and that left Sheppard short of the 150 required to be on the ballot.
Sheppard contended that Boose had not taken an oath of office in a timely manner; that the Board of Elections did not follow procedures in notifying her of objections to her signature petitions; and that the petitions should have been presumed as valid. She also said that Ward, who carried petitions for candidate Ernest Flagler, did not have standing to make objections.
Odorisi wrote that Boose had extra time to take the oath because of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order relating to COVID-19. He denied Sheppard’s claim that she did not receive due process and he wrote that the burden is on the candidate to establish that the petition is valid and not establish that the election board made a procedural error.
Odorisi also wrote that Ward had standing to make objections because she is a registered Democrat, lives in the district and that her campaigning for a competitor does not bar her from challenging petitions.
Ward has challenged many petitions over the years, and some of the challenges have ended up in court.
Pending the appeal, the field for the primary consists of Flagler, who was endorsed by the Democratic Party, Ann Lewis, Demond Meeks and Silvano Orsi. The seat had been held by David Gantt, who retired.
Sheppard, a social worker, is a commissioner of the Rochester City School District Board of Education.
Sheppard said she brought suit because the court can uphold the petition process. She represented herself.
“People like me, who don’t have a political faction backing them, who may not be able to raise a lot of money to run for office, we shouldn’t be singled out or unjustly removed from the process because we don’t in essence kiss the ring,” she said. “We have the right to run if we’re qualified by law and that right shouldn’t be decided by an elite group behind the scenes who are trying to control th choices that our voters actually have to make.”
Ward’s challenge of Sheppard was not the only dispute over petitions.
Orsi had filed a complaint with the Monroe County District Attorney and the state Board of Elections, claiming election fraud in the handling of Flagler’s petition. However, he said he is not pursuing the matter.