Preserve Ramapo Contests the Ward Vote Count

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OP-ED BY Michael Castelluccio, Preserve Ramapo 

The count of the Ward Referendum vote took place [last week] at the Rockland Health Center. Officials from the Town of Ramapo and the Rockland Board of Elections were present, and three counts were merged in the final totals presented later in the day. It came as no surprise to those supporting the Ward System that registered voters voted one way, and those who voted with affidavit ballots overwhelmingly voted against it.

Before we look at the numbers, there’s a clarification needed about why the count took place. You might recall the Journal News story about the Ward election: “State Supreme Court Justice Margaret Garvey on Tuesday invalidated Ramapo’s referendums on establishing a ward system and adding two Town Board members, ordering that a new vote be held.”

The judge cited violations, confusion and general screw-ups by those running the election, Chris Sampson and Mona Montal, and she had the machines and ballots confiscated and locked up while a new election could be arranged. At that point, Michael Klein and the town hustled off to court, the Appellate division in Brooklyn. There, before a panel of judges they did not argue that Judge Garvey was wrong, but that she didn’t have the power to do what she did. They were able to convince the Appellate court that the count should proceed because the judge had overstepped her legal jurisdiction in the matter.

The court agreed and ordered that the count of the votes be completed. They did not, and this is key to what happens next, discount Garvey’s legal opinions about the misinformation, mismanagement, violations of election procedure and law, and fatal ineptitude of the way the election was directed. They said, without knowing what the outcome of the vote is, there actually is no aggrieved party, so count the vote and then those charges can be revisited. As it sometimes happens, legal technicalities get in the way of, or delay justice.

Funny Numbers

There were three counts taken.

Registered voters produced these results on the Machine Vote for the two questions:

1.    Should there be a Ward System in Ramapo?

13,891  Voted Yes (50.66%)

13,526  Voted No  (49.33%)

2. Should the number of Council members be increased from 4 to 6?

13,858  Voted Yes  (50.50%)

13,581  Voted No   (49.49%)

Registered voters who submitted absentee ballots voted this way:

1.    Should there be a Ward System in Ramapo?

377  Voted Yes  (65.22%)

201  Voted No   (34.77%)

2.    Should the number of Council members be increased from 4 to 6?

366  Voted Yes  (63.65%)

209  Voted No   (36.34%)

So, for those registered voters who showed up, signed the book, and went into the booths to fill out the ballot, they approved both the Ward System and adding two new council members for the wards. The same for those registered voters who submitted absentee ballots.

And this brings us to the highly suspect, and chaotic affidavit vote that accounted for a staggering 2,299 ballots or 7.5% of the total vote in the election.

It was the vote of these unregistered voters who claimed to be residents in the Town that defeated the Ward referendum.

1.    Should there be a Ward System in Ramapo?

419 Voted Yes  (18.43%)

1,854  Voted No  (81.56%)

2.    Should the number of Council members be increased from 4 to 6?

420 Voted Yes  (18.43%)

1,858  Voted No  (81.56%)

The way they set up the affidavit process was suspicious enough to have a State Supreme Court Judge decide to chuck the whole election and demand a new vote. Here are the essential legal problems with what Town Clerk Chris Sampson did with that vote.

1.    The town’s formal resolution to set up this election asked that people be registered by a certain date in order to vote.

2.    The people who were to work at the polling stations were the regulars used by the County Board of Elections. However, during his training sessions with these people, Chris Sampson did not explain that non-registered people would be able to vote by filling out an Affidavit form designed after the Affidavits used in regular elections. In a regular election, those forms are filled out and sworn to by anyone who claims to be registered, but who does not show up in the voter roll books at the tables.

3.    Even though Sampson didn’t instruct the workers about this contingency, he, and presumably, Montal printed thousands of the forms to be used by non-registered voters who claimed to be residents.

4.    There was no public announcement in the week before the election that you could vote even if you were not registered. No public announcement, but somebody got the word out to the thousands who did show up asking for these forms. When asked by Judge Garvey why the public was not notified in the weeks before the election, town attorney Michael Klein actually told the court, we didn’t make a public announcement that unregistered people could vote because the polls would have been overwhelmed.

5.    On the morning of the election, word was sent out to the various polling stations instructing the workers to allow non-registered voters to vote via affidavit. How the voters would know that they had this option was not explained by Sampson.

6.    Throughout the day, polling stations ran out of the forms, and they were replenished—many to some polling places, few to others—the work being done by Brendel Logan Charles and others. Polling stations like St. Joseph Church in Spring Valley were given 10 affidavit ballots.

7.    Anecdotal testimony came back during the day that some of the affidavit votes were being processed directly by machine—a violation—and evidence of the residency claim was, for the most part, not collected or even demanded. Some of the veteran poll workers were very upset with this entire fiasco.

8.    And finally, in what reduced the transparency of the process to zero, Chris Sampson decided early on that no impartial poll watchers would be allowed to be on site to watch, question, and report irregularities in the vote. Poll watchers are present in all other regular elections in Rockland County and throughout the state.

If you’re having trouble seeing what Judge Garvey determined as improper/illegal in the voting process, you, no doubt, voted No on both issues or you have a job at Town Hall. 

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