BY MATT RICCHIAZZI
When acting District Attorney Mike Flaherty levied five felony charges against conservative activist Rus Thompson – in the heat of a contested Democrat primary – it was so wrought with intrigue that it is hard to believe the charges were not politically motivated.
After all a staunch Democrat was charging the leader of the TEA Party with voter fraud.
“This is outrageous and an absolute political witch-hunt and abuse of power,” said Tom Bauerle, the WBEN talk show host. “Offering a plea to a felony could put the Army vet in prison for 1 to 4 years.”
“In the interest of justice, the case against Thompson needs to be dropped,” Baurle insisted on his show.
Even State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Burns excoriated the District Attorney’s office for pursuing the allegation against Thompson as a felony.
Just to be clear, Thompson only voted once. His vote was cast in a polling booth located in his longtime home of Grand Island.
But while Thompson worked and stayed in Grand Island most of the time, he was for a time sleeping in Niagara Falls.
That is the sum and substance of his crime: While he considered Grand Island home and worked and spent his days here, he slept in Niagara Falls. Thompson did not vote in Niagara Falls and did not vote twice – just once – in the place he considered home – Grand Island.
How many millions of Americans vote every year in places they do not literally sleep but where they have a business or a strong personal attachment? Consider all the students who are on campus who vote at their parents’ address. Or people with two residences. Or hundreds of thousands of others who moved but did not change their registration and voted.
Acting DA Flaherty, who was running for election (and lost narrowly to Democrat John Flynn) got headlines by charging Thompson with five felonies for his vote cast in Grand Island.
But it may have cost Flaherty the election as Thompson organized supporters and the media outed Flaherty for his politicizing the DA’s office to attack political enemies. Flaherty showed the public he was unfit for office by his felony persecution of Thompson.
Thompson says lawyers researching the case have not been able to find another fraud case of voting where you did not sleep that the Erie County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted. The only cases in New York State appear to be two cases where actual candidates (not merely voters) voted in places they did not live. These were prosecuted with no one doing any jail time. Those cases were seen as politically motivated.
It’s been long established in common law that as long as a voter does not vote twice, “home is where the heart is” and a voter does not have to sleep every night in a locale to vote there. Thompson was registered to vote in Grand Island.
The case most similar to Thompson’s was one against Susan B. Anthony – in Federal Court – for voting as a woman when it was illegal to do so. Thompson is accused of voting essentially as the wrong person in the wrong place.
Thompson is a longtime critic of the former Grand Island Town Supervisor Mary Cooke. She lost the election to Nate McMurray in a close election. Thompson supported McMurray. Thompson suspects Cooke was behind the charges.
Yet there was ample justification for Thompson to vote in Grand Island since he was living there for decades and was recently evicted by his Grand Island landlord after Grand Island’s politically motivated building inspectors pressured the landlord to do so based on alleged zoning violations. Thompson moved to Niagara Falls as he actively sought another residence on Grand Island.
When Thompson arrived at his regular polling station to vote in the September, 2015 primary, his name had disappeared from voter rolls. Both Democrat and Republican election inspectors knew Thompson and they told him to vote by affidavit. By the 2015 general election, Thompson’s name was again on the Grand Island voter rolls.
“(Election commissioners) Ralph Mohr and Len Lenihan were refusing to prosecute me but Mary Cooke persisted and was adamant. They finally succumbed and told her to go ahead and she hand-carried my affidavit to the DA’s office and demanded they prosecute,” Thompson claims.
Merely because Cooke was a former Town Supervisor did not give her authority to possess election records. If Cooke did, in fact, handle the affidavit ballot without the authority to do so, the charges could be dismissed on the grounds that the chain of custody of the evidence was improper.
Thompson’s trial – the case of a man who voted at his long time voting place – his home – which for a month or so he did not sleep in – is expected to begin in mid January before State Supreme Court Justice Russell Buscaglia.
If the DA has his way, Thompson will go to prison. If justice has its sway, the charges will be dropped or the jury will vote to acquit Thompson based on true principles of justice.
Just as voters voted to oust the vainglorious Flaherty as unfit and the deceptive Cook as wrong for Grand Island.