QUEENSBURY — Notaries must speak to the people who are signing documents in front of them, the National Notary Association said a day after Supervisor John Strough and his wife were arrested on charges related to mishandling notary duties in last year’s election.
Chris Strough is accused of three misdemeanor counts of violating election law by not properly notarizing signatures on Conservative Party nominating petitions last year. She has not returned a call seeking comment.
Supervisor John Strough filed the notarized petitions with the Board of Elections, saying they were done correctly. He is charged with one misdemeanor count of filing a false statement.
But he defended his wife’s work after their arrest Monday. He said she witnessed each signature from their car, watching as he asked residents to sign.
QUEENSBURY — Supervisor John Strough and his wife, Christianne, were arrested by State Police on Monday on charges related to election fraud.
That’s not how it’s supposed to be done, according to the National Notary Association.
“One of the golden rules of the notary is awareness of the signer,” said NNA notary expert Marissa Quintero. “The notary has to ask basic questions.”
Those questions include asking whether anyone is forcing the person to sign.
The notary is also supposed to quietly evaluate the signer.
“If at any point the signer feels coerced, or is not aware, or even just heavily medicated, or elderly people are being pushed to sign, the notary has the right to refuse,” Quintero said.
The notary should also keep a journal that lists each person whose signature is notarized, Quintero said. Those journals are not required in New York State.
“But it’s highly recommended,” Quintero said. “This way, if anyone comes back to the notary and says, did you discriminate against old people by refusing to sign? You can say no, look at my journal, he was heavily medicated.”
On nominating petitions, the rules also state that the notary must “duly swear” each signor. There’s no prescribed ceremony in New York, Quintero said.
“So generally we say, ‘Signer, do you swear everything in this document is true to the best of your belief?’” Quintero said.
She stressed that notaries cannot skip that step.
The Stroughs have hired E. Stewart Jones to represent them in court. Jones noted that Chris Strough had properly notarized many signatures prior to the events in question in this case.
“He already had the signatures he needed,” Jones said. “There’s no motive for this.”
He predicted the case might be simply dismissed.
“I think you’re going to find, at the end of this process, that nothing occurred that warranted this,” he said, adding that he has never heard of a notary being charged in this way before.
The case began last summer, when Strough and supervisor candidate Rachel Seeber were competing for the Conservative Party line on the ballot. Strough was endorsed by the Conservatives, but Seeber was able to get enough signatures to force a primary.
Republicans immediately questioned Strough’s petitions. The Warren County Republican Committee hired Elite Protective and Investigative Services to ask signers whether Strough had been alone when he got their signatures. Several people said yes and signed statements to that effect.
The committee then turned those statements over to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, which sent them to the Albany County District Attorney’s Office for a special prosecutor, to avoid a conflict of interest.
The Albany District Attorney’s Office and the State Police Special Investigations Unit looked into the case and arrested the Stroughs on Monday.
The committee reported in its January financials that it paid $535 in August for the private investigator who did the work. Seeber has not yet filed her post-election financial report, which was due 27 days after the election.