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Oct 16, 2013 10:11 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Improper Vote For Kabot Was An Honest Mistake, Says Man Who Cast Ballot

Oct 16, 2013 11:20 AM

One of the two registered Republicans who voted improperly in the recent Conservative Party primary for Southampton Town supervisor—a race settled by a single vote—is a supporter of winner Linda Kabot, and in fact had connections to the effort to get Ms. Kabot the Conservative Party’s endorsement for town supervisor.

But Greg Celi Jr. said this week that the mistake was an honest one, both on his part and that of election workers.

Mr. Celi is now a registered Conservative Party member, but he was not eligible to vote in the party primary on September 20 between Republican candidate Ms. Kabot and Conservative Party member Phil Keith, because he had switched his party registration, from Republican, earlier this year.

He said he was not aware he was voting improperly—election laws prevent someone who switches parties from voting in a primary in the same election cycle—and that poll workers allowed him to proceed.

“I changed my registration a few months ago, and I got a card telling me to vote at the Quogue Fire Department. I figured the change of registration had something to do with it, because I had always voted at East Quogue [Elementary] School,” Mr. Celi said this week. “It was my name, and I signed on the dotted line, and that was it. Nobody gave me a whole lot of instruction. They handed me a [ballot], and I went in and voted.”

Mr. Celi, a resident of East Quogue, will be eligible to vote in the general election in November as a Conservative Party member.

Mr. Celi’s wife, Sharon, is a registered Conservative Party member, as is his father, Greg Sr. Both are strong supporters of Ms. Kabot. Ms. Celi was, in fact, an organizer of the effort to get Ms. Kabot on the Conservative Party line, the candidate confirmed, and Mr. Celi Sr. contributed $500 to Ms. Kabot’s campaign.

“I’m truly a Conservative at heart,” the younger Mr. Celi said. “And I’ve supported Linda in all her elections before this.”

His improper vote for Ms. Kabot would appear to have, at the very least, left the true outcome of the Conservative primary for the Southampton Town supervisor nomination in a tie, between Ms. Kabot and Mr. Keith, who is a Town Planning Board member and columnist for The Press. The vote was certified by the Board of Elections on September 24 as 73 votes for Ms. Kabot and 72 for Mr. Keith.

Board of Elections officials did not return phone calls seeking confirmation of Mr. Celi’s change of party registration or on the mix-up at the polls in general.

Conservative Party leaders, who have tried at each turn to block Ms. Kabot from earning the party line on the November ballot, raised the issue of Mr. Celi’s apparently improper vote, and another cast on September 20 by a man named Joseph R. Gallo in Sag Harbor, whom the party says is also a registered Republican. The party leaders say they were told that the Board of Elections did not have the power itself to declare the entire balloting invalid and call for a re-vote.

Southampton Town Councilman Jim Malone, the head of the Conservative Party’s town committee, declined to comment on the primary controversy. Earlier this month, Mr. Malone said that the party leadership chose not to challenge the results of the election in court because by the time the error was discovered there would have been no time to muster a new party primary before the November ballot had to be certified on October 1.

In spite of the admission by Mr. Celi that he did, in fact, apparently cast a vote for her improperly, Ms. Kabot said she will not decline the ballot line, the third line on the ballot. If the party leadership had demanded that she decline the nomination at the time the impropriety of the vote was discovered, she said she would have done so.

“They didn’t ask me to decline—if they had on [September 20], I would have, and I’d have the Southampton NOW line, and I’d be right under the [Independence Party] line on the ballot,” Ms. Kabot said of the minor party she formed by petition for the election. Since she received the nomination of the Conservative Party, the BOE declined her request to have the Southampton NOW line added to the ballot. “They could have asked that I decline, and I would have the NOW line. Instead, they waited two weeks and stirred it up in the media to make it look like a cloud over my campaign, then they’ll take the headlines and clip them for mailings attacking me.”

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