NEWFANE — Judge Katherine Hayes denied the town of Windham’s motion to dismiss claims made against it in a lawsuit alleging voter fraud in votes to close the elementary school.
“As the court has stated in prior orders related to this case, the basic facts that the plaintiffs allege here are that the three individual defendants are not residents of Windham, and had not resided there since the spring of 2020,” Hayes wrote in a recent decision in Windham Superior Court, Civil Division. “These defendants were instead residents of the Town of Peru.”
Plaintiffs Erin Kehoe and Crystal Corriveau of Windham, who have been in favor of closing the school in order to have school choice, claim that defendant Lisa Beshay announced at a public meeting related to the school that she did not live in Windham.
They also allege that Beshay signed a statement under oath in August 2021 that she was resident of Peru and had no plan to move back to Windham, according to the decision.
In September, a vote was held on whether to close Windham Elementary School and provide school choice for elementary school. The article passed by two votes.
Then a petition was organized for a revote, which occurred Nov. 2 and failed by three votes. The school was now set to stay open.
Hayes said three defendants in the case — Beshay, Alex Beshay and Chris Streker — participated in the two votes and signed the petition.
“The plaintiffs allege that after the September election, member of the Town Board of Civil Authority who was also member of the Town School Board began a petition drive to seek reconsideration of the issue,” Hayes wrote, referring to Carolyn Partridge, who is no longer on the School Board and recently retired from serving in the Vermont House of Representatives.
Corriveau and Kehoe provided as evidence an e-mail message in which Lisa Beshay asks Partridge if she could participate in Windham elections while residing in Peru if she continued to own real estate in Windham. Partridge responded to Beshay saying that if she intends to return to Windham as a resident and had not registered to vote elsewhere, she could still vote in Windham, and as long as she was “on the checklist,” she was “a legal voter,” according to the decision.
Hayes noted that Corriveau and Kehoe did not petition the town to review the voter checklist before either election. They are now seeking a court order to set “aside the election results due to fraud, i.e. due to the three voters who they allege were not residents and thus were not qualified to vote, being permitted to do so,” according to the decision. They also want a court order saying the town must remove the voters’ names from the checklist in addition to other remedies.
“The Town argues emphatically that the plaintiffs’ request that they remove the voters’ names from the checklist is ‘moot,’” Hayes wrote.
According to the decision, the town pointed to a method of review and removal of voters from checklists outlined in state law with strict timelines.
“The Town asserts that had it immediately sought, by using this statutory process, to remove the individual voters’ names from the checklist after the August meeting at which it is alleged that they essentially announced that they were not residents, they could still not have been removed from the list in time to bar them from voting at the election in question,” Hayes wrote.
Hayes said the town also argued against the claim that the election result should not be considered valid because even if the three individual defendants voted in favor of keeping the school open, the outcome would have been a tie and the school would have still stayed open.
Corriveau and Kehoe believe the town should have immediately removed names from the voter checklist after information about their residency came to light, according to the decision. They also argue that a tie vote is not a majority, which is required for a reconsideration vote to be allowed and would have led to the school closure as decided in the first vote.
Hayes said the court has authority to rule on questions related to elections.
“As the parties are aware, a motion to dismiss a plaintiff’s claims ‘should not be granted unless it is beyond doubt that there exist no facts or circumstances that would entitle the plaintiff to relief,’” she wrote, citing case law.