ITHACA, N.Y. — Patrick Kuehl, the candidate behind a write-in campaign to unseat Alderperson Jorge DeFendini in the City of Ithaca’s Fourth Ward, had his own affidavit ballot rejected by the Tompkins County Board of Elections Monday.
Kuehl’s ballot snafu comes during a tense, low-turnout race in which his chances of defeating the incumbent largely rest on dozens of votes cast through absentee and affidavit ballots.
DeFendini campaigned mildly up until Election Day under the impression he was unopposed.
In a district with over 6,300 residents, DeFendini captured just 28 votes, and 12 votes were cast for a write-in candidate by the time the polls closed.
Tompkins County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Steve Dewitt told The Ithaca Voice that as of Monday there are up to 22 absentee ballots and 43 affidavit ballots which could be considered in the race between Kuehl and DeFendini.
Tompkins County Board of Elections officials rejected Kuehl’s affidavit ballot Monday because the address he wrote on it was located outside of the Fourth Ward, multiple witnesses to the affidavit ballot review process confirmed to The Ithaca Voice.
The idea that Kuehl potentially doesn’t live in the district he’s seeking to represent offers up his opponents choice fodder for criticizing him. DeFendini has blasted Kuehl’s campaign as “deceptive and undemocratic.”
However, Kuehl said in an interview he simply wrote down the wrong address.
“I was just stressed” and “screwed up” while filling out his ballot, Kuehl said.
Kuehl, a senior at Cornell University and president of the school’s student assembly, emerged at the center of the biggest election-day surprise in the City of Ithaca when reporters learned his name was attached to a write-in campaign just two hours before the polls were set to close.
Up until then, DeFendini, a member of the socialist Solidarity Slate on council, was expected to slide easily into another four-year term representing the city’s Fourth Ward.
“Maybe he would have been out and talking to people if he knew he was running opposed, but I feel like he should have been doing that anyways, as an elected official,” Kuehl said.
Kuehl has said he launched his campaign in opposition to the slate and its approach to government. He claims he was openly campaigning for over a month. He said Monday that he registered to vote in the city “a couple weeks ago,” but the board of elections had not updated their records with his current address, which is why he had to fill out an affidavit ballot.
The address Kuehl gave to The Ithaca Voice as his current residence falls within the Fourth Ward. It is also the address of Alderperson Tiffany Kumar, who represents the city’s Fourth Ward on Common Council and who Kuehl has named as a supporter of his campaign.
Kumar confirmed Kuehl’s current address. She said in a message that he moved into a unit that’s down the hall from hers, and that they share a small kitchen.
“He moved in sometime this semester,” Kumar said. “[T]his was before he talked to me about the campaign, he was just looking for a place.”
Kumar has sought to limit her connection to Kuehl’s campaign in her public comments. She previously told The Ithaca Voice that she was aware of Kuehl’s campaign before the wider public, but noted that she “didn’t endorse Kuehl.”
Yet, she saw herself become a target following Election Day. Kumar told reporters she found her car door dented and a note left on her vehicle’s windshield that said “Resign” on one side and “B—-” on the other.
It isn’t explicitly clear if the act is related to Kuehl’s campaign. Kumar won reelection to her seat on Election Day. She was unopposed.
Kuehl’s novel campaign stands a chance of earning him a seat in public office. Final results won’t be publicly available until Wednesday at the earliest, according to the Tompkins County Board of Elections.