County elections commissioner indicted

Grand jury hands up 94 counts against Democrat Fran Knapp, including criminal charges on absentee ballots

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Dutchess County Democratic Elections Commissioner Fran Knapp has been indicted on multiple criminal charges relating to allegations of tampering with absentee-voter records.

A Dutchess County grand jury also indicted former Republican Election Commissioner David Gamache.

Both pleaded not guilty at their arraignments in Dutchess County Court July 30, according to media reports. They face pre-trial hearings Oct. 29.

Knapp was indicted on 94 counts, including 46 felonies. The charges include misconduct by an election officer, making an apparently sworn false statement, and altered votes in a time frame that ran from 2008 to 2012, according to the indictment released by Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady. Gamache was indicted on one felony count of misconduct by an elections officer, and three misdemeanor charges.

Grady reportedly convened the grand jury 18 months ago to investigate allegations of misconduct involving Board of Elections officials and employees.

County Executive Marc Molinaro, a Republican, has asked Knapp to step aside until the charges are resolved. But her attorney, Seth Rosenberg, said in a statement released Aug. 3, “In the United States, anyone against whom charges are leveled is entitled to due process and the presumption of innocence. The county executive’s call for Fran Knapp to step down as commissioner of elections ignores these bedrock American principles.”

The statement added, “Fran Knapp has served the voters of Dutchess County fairly and wisely for more than 10 years.”

A petition of support for Knapp signed by former and current Democratic staff of the Dutchess County Board of Elections on July 31 called her indictment “politically orchestrated.”

Last week, a joint statement by the county’s Conservative and Republican parties called on Knapp to take a leave of absence until her court date.
Under New York state law, only the governor can remove an elections commissioner.

According to news reports, in 2011 Republican Elections Commissioner Erik Haight alleged in court documents that Knapp’s staff had tampered with data on 40 absentee ballots in a Poughkeepsie primary election. Haight took the issue to court and the data was reversed.

Both Knapp and Haight have had a contentious relationship over an almost two-year period. Each has accused the other in lawsuits of abuse of power and questioned the handling of voter records.

Election commissioners are chosen by committees of each major political party. Their appointments are then confirmed by the county Legislature.

Vicky Perry of Red Hook is Deputy Commissioner and long-time employee at the Board of Elections under Knapp.

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