BY JOSEPH KISSEL
Rus Thompson says he can’t talk about it, but as he said during his Sunday “remove the tolls” address at Fisherman’s Park in Grand Island, anybody else can.
Thompson was recently charged with five felony counts of voter fraud when he filed an affidavit ballot to vote on Nov. 3, 2015. Two of the felony charges were for votes he cast for races on Grand Island; two were for the general election, and one for the affidavit ballot itself, according to his wife Julianne.
At the center of the charges against Rus is whether he lived at the address he put on the affidavit ballot for 30 days before the election.
Complicating matters, or at least providing a murky backstory, is that Julianne said she and her family were “evicted illegally” from their home on Bedell Road in Grand Island earlier that year, an eviction she says was tied to the political motivation of getting the family off the Island.
She believes the same political force behind the eviction is responsible for targeting Rus with the voter fraud charge.
At the root of this politics is evidently Rus Thompson’s participation in the 2015 supervisor’s race on the Island, which saw him support Democrat Nate McMurray who ultimately [helped by Rus’ vote] won in a narrow 14-vote plurality over incumbent Republican Supervisor Mary Cooke.
Still, it was Julianne Thompson who sent the Board of Elections a note saying: “We are moving. Please remove us from the voter rolls.”
“But it didn’t specify Rus Thompson on there or our children,” she said. “It didn’t have any of that information on there. Essentially all they could have taken from the voter rolls was myself as it turns out.”
Rus Thompson never changed his voter registration, she said.
“We intended it to be just a temporary move and move back. In fact, we might be moving back in the next couple of months.”
In the meantime, Thompson recently rejected a plea deal that his wife said wasn’t any different from the initial charges. Thompson’s case is going to a grand jury.
Julianne Thompson said Rus never changed his voter registration.
“But when he went to his old polling place they found out his name wasn’t on there. He filled out an affidavit using his old address because it was his polling address at which he was registered. There was no intent to defraud or anything like that. But that’s what they’re charging that he intended to defraud. But he told them right off.”
Julianne Thompson said the judge, State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns, expressed surprise when Acting Erie Country District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. said the charges would be felonies.
Julianne Thompson said Flaherty responded: “He needs to be held responsible. He needs to take responsibility for this.”
“And he has taken responsibility for this,” Julianne Thompson said. “As soon as he was approached by the DA. He said, ‘Yeah, I’m guilty but this is why.’ Because we essentially were illegally put out, evicted from our home. And when I went to go to my polling place, without having changed my registration, he was purged from the voter rolls.”
Previously, before leaving Grand Island for Niagara Falls, Rus Thompson lived there for 20 years and ran a business on Bedell Road, which was one source of friction that Julianne Thompson believes led the district attorney to investigate Thompson’s affidavit ballot.
But, as Rus Thompson said at the “Remove the Tolls” rally: “I’m convinced right now that I will not be bullied or intimidated into being silent. There are way too many issues out in the forefront that I’ve been working on for years and many other things that we have to focus on.”
Julianne Thompson summed up her husband’s felony voting charges as such: “All they are saying is he wrote down on his affidavit his old address that was his last known address on the Island. He never changed his registration to Niagara Falls. So it wasn’t like he was voting in two places. He was just using the address of record that had Grand Island as his place of voter registration.”
In response to a request for comment, the Erie County District Attorney’s office had this to say about the ongoing matter: “We investigate all credible allegations of corruption brought to our attention and follow where the evidence leads without fear or favor. If the evidence proves you have broken the law, whether elected official, public servant or everyday citizen, we will prosecute you.”
“The sanctity of the right to vote is among our most cherished possessions as American citizens and anything which impugns the integrity of our right to select who represents us cannot be tolerated.”