Rus Thompson is about to stand trial in New York State Supreme Court, before Hon, Justice Russell Buscaglia, on felony charges of voter fraud.
For the record, this is the first time the Erie County District Attorney’s Office has been known to criminally charge a citizen for felony voter fraud.
In fact, in the history of New York jurisprudence there is no known precedent for a prosecution of this kind.
True, John O’Hara, a Brooklyn attorney and political candidate, was charged criminally for registering to vote from a place that did not qualify as his residence under Election Law. While O’Hara was convicted, a judge overturned the conviction on Jan. 12, 2017.
This is instructive since, while the election law as written is strict, most judges know that precedent is fluid interpretation of law.
It is unheard of to prosecute someone such as Thompson for merely voting in an election. Anywhere else this would never have been charged.
The entire case against Thompson is that, while he lived in Grand Island for decades, and has a business there, he didn’t allegedly ‘live’ in Grand Island, when he voted there.
The only time the state ever looked at voter residency cases as potentially criminal is when the person voting is also a candidate running for office and doesn’t actually live in the district they are planning to represent.
Nobody in the history of New York State was ever charged for merely voting in a place other than the place where they slept at night.
Look at the precedents.
In Bressler v. Holt-Harris, the Court of Appeals held that a candidate’s residence was sufficient for Election Law purposes even though a candidate recalled having slept there only once in seven years.
In Gladwin v. Power, the Court of Appeals held that a candidate’s office address constituted a legal residence under the Election Law.
In Geller v. Lasher, the Court upheld a finding that a candidate maintained a valid residence for Election Law purposes in a one bedroom apartment which he owned but was subletting to a tenant for the tenant’s exclusive use. His wife and six children [and he himself] resided in a five-bedroom house in a different district.
In People v. Ramos, Ramos, a candidate for public office, was charged with false voter registration and illegal voting based upon the People’s contention that he registered to vote from a place that was not his residence under the definition of Election Law. Relying for precedent on Gladwin v Power, Justice Bamberger held that “the candidate is free to choose [a] residence for voting purposes even if the candidate lives there only occasionally.”
Indeed, the only affirmed conviction for illegal voting in the history of New York State was when Susan B. Anthony, of the women’s suffrage movement, was convicted in Rochester in 1876 for false registration and illegal voting based on the fact that she was a woman.
And now there’s Rus Thompson who was criminally charged with one count of false registration and using that false registration to vote in Grand Island in the primary and general elections of 2015.
While Anthony was fined $100 and never paid it. Thompson is charged with felony counts and they want to send him to prison.
For the record, Thompson and his family rented a home in Grand Island for decades. The home he moved out of was zoned for business. In his backyard, he built mini-concrete mixers by hand and sold them all over the world. Thompson was a man who never profited from that which his hands did not build.
Thompson was known to almost everyone on the island; he was active there. He led the fight to have tolls removed on the bridges and make travel to Grand Island free like everywhere else.
He was a member of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce and worked on zoning plans. And more than 20 years ago he was once escorted out of town hall by police when he insisted that the Republican town board listen to plans to boost business on the island.
Over the decades, he often said that, on Grand Island, a small group of Republicans had been calling the shots for years. They couldn’t get rid of his business, couldn’t pressure him off the Island. But they kept anyone else out that might support his plans. They closed a greenhouse, a hair salon, a shipping company.
All Thompson wanted was to get government out of his hair.
When the Tea Party was born, Thompson was part of its birthing. He made an impressive impact on the regional, state and national level as one of its spokespersons.
It seems all islands are insular places. When the ruling elite wants a man out of favor or power, it means they want him ‘off island.’
With his political following, and his lack of support, if not animosity, for the elite of the Republican Party, Thompson was not a nuisance. He was a threat to the rulers here.
One day, the Republican Town Supervisor Mary S. Cooke, who was facing reelection the following year, sent an inspector with a camera to Thompson’s home. Then came a letter, then another, ordering Thompson to cease his small business in his back yard [from which he made his living] based on some new interpretation of zoning codes.
Thompson ignored it. Instead of taking him to court, as he expected, town officials went to his landlord and threatened to take her to court. She sent Thompson a letter telling him he had to move.
Thompson rented space for his business on the Island and rented a home ‘across the bridge’ in Niagara Falls planning to come back. Now he firmly resolved to support Cooke’s opponent whoever it was, in the upcoming election.
On the day of the Sept. 2015, primary, Thompson arrived at the fire station on Grand Island Boulevard, where he had voted for decades. He was told his name was no longer on the voter rolls.
The election inspectors knew him however and told him he could vote by affidavit. They handed him an affidavit. He signed it and voted.
Once again, for the record, he did not vote in Niagara Falls, nor did not vote more than once. He did not stuff the ballots or forge a document. They knew he was Rus Thompson. One man, one vote.
But Thompson did more. He supported a candidate to defeat Cooke.
He openly campaigned for Nate McMurray, a Democrat, saying what a lot of people already knew.
“Try to put a fence, a pool, an addition on your house. Try to operate a business on Grand Island. Notice the vacant storefronts? Why is Hizzair gone? Why is the garden center on Ransom Road gone? There are so many businesses that closed their doors or simply moved away. This town board, and this supervisor, have to be replaced here and now.”
It was supposed to be a slam dunk in this Republican town for Cooke’s reelection. But Thompson would not stop or shut up. He was everywhere on the Island. Indeed ‘he practically lived there’ as the expression goes.
On the day of the general election, Thompson was proud to vote at the fire station on Grand Island Boulevard for McMurray and proud to wait with McMurray for the election results.
Town Supervisor Mary Cooke was stunned and Thompson elated when Cooke lost the election to McMurray by 12 votes.
Thompson was the difference. Not his one vote, but the hundreds, maybe thousands of voters he mobilized, called out of their lethargy, to elect change.
As proof of Thompson living in Grand Island, in the sense of truly living, they elected the man he endorsed: Nate McMurray, a young man, new to the Island over a woman who had been at the top of the Republican party for decades.
Naturally Cooke was angry. Before she left office she shredded paper documents and deleted town files going back years from the town computer.
She knew Thompson had voted in Grand Island – everybody knew. And she knew he had been evicted, because, as Thompson said, she caused the eviction.
The proverbial ‘greed bone’ of Flaherty became inflamed in the young man. Imagine, he might have thought, taking down the Tea Party leader in the year of Trump! This would allow him to claim he was tough on corruption and good for the Hillary people.
Flaherty charged Thompson for something no one was ever charged before in this state, then he assigned two top prosecutors and two investigators to pursue Thompson, then issued a press release.
While Flaherty proclaimed, “We will prosecute no matter who you are or who your friends are. Voting is one of our most cherished and sacred rights, and we will protect it,” it was during an election year when Flaherty proclaimed it, and he, a democrat, led the DA’s office to prosecute the top Tea-Party activist in the area.
WBEN Radio host Tom Bauerle took to the airwaves to support Thompson. His argument was strong: Election workers at the poll handed Thompson the affidavit to sign. “It’s like being waived ahead of a red light by a traffic cop,” Bauerle said. “What you see on the ground you follow instead of the traffic signal. You always follow the directions of a person, a police officer, or first responder first. Rus Thompson followed the direction of legal authorities at the polling place,” when they told him he could vote.
Who would throw a man in jail for that?
Maybe there is justice.
The man who cherished the sacred right to vote, found the voters cherished their sacred votes a little more and elected Flynn.
And this is justice.
Who would vote for a DA so politically motivated and unmindful of human dignity that he would put a man in jail for voting because he didn’t sleep somewhere for awhile?
It is likely that millions of Americans vote in places they do not literally sleep but where they have a business or strong attachment. Students on campuses vote at their parents’ address. People with two residences vote in either place. Hundreds of thousands of people move but do not change their registration and yet vote. Thousands of affidavits are filed in Erie County every year. Those that are seen as invalid are thrown away. The DA doesn’t go after them.
Among selective and political prosecutions, this one is shocking..
To put a man in prison for voting in the community of his choice.
He voted in the community he believes in, the place he fought for, and lives in and always will live in. It shocks the conscience to prosecute him.