Ward vote questions persist in Ramapo as judge orders votes impounded, officials call for investigations into alleged fraud

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

RAMAPO – The “ward vote” referendum in the Town of Ramapo turned up no immediate result as the ballots were impounded via court-order of state Supreme Court Justice Margaret Garvey. The vote did manage to create controversy as reports of irregularities came streaming in from those on both sides of the issue.

According to Ramapo Town Attorney Michael Klein, Judge Garvey ordered all regular and absentee ballots to be handed over to Rockland County’s Board of Elections. The petitions will remain with the county until Garvey comes to a decision on the appropriateness of the town’s voting procedures, an outcome not likely until October 10 when Garvey is expected to lay down procedures for counting the votes.

The decision came after pro-ward system activists Mike Parietti and Robert Romanowski filed petitions Tuesday afternoon to challenge the town’s decision not to count absentee ballots that arrive after 5 p.m. on Tuesday and to allow non-registered voters to participate in the election. During elections conducted by the Board of Elections absentee ballots can be counted as long as they are postmarked prior to the date of the election.

Owing largely to state municipal law, voter eligibility was atypical during the ward vote. Residents were allowed to vote as long as they were a U.S. citizen who was at least 18 years of age and had lived in the town long enough to be counted as residents. Proof of residency was the only verification required to vote, and some questioned whether non-citizens could skirt the system with ease.

The atypical rules, impounding and delayed results are only a few of the complications faced during Tuesday’s vote, which was meant to determine whether or not Ramapo would add two members to its town board and split itself up into separate voting districts to localize town board elections. Reports also abounded of people turned away at polling places for failure to register, though other locations reported no such incidents.

Poll watchers were prohibited from polling places, a decision which was widely criticized by activists and politicians from both sides of the aisle, but supported by Garvey in a ruling last week. Garvey ruled for the town on the grounds that such safeguards were only required during elections between candidates, not during referendums.

The decision, though legal, had led to condemnation from State Sen. David Carlucci, Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee and Ramapo Town Board members Daniel Friedman and Yitzchok Ullman, who all urged Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence to reverse the decision.

Complaints about the election became so commonplacee that both county and state representatives are now calling for investigations into alleged fraud. County Executive Ed Day announced on Facebook that he would encourage Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe to launch a criminal investigation into voter fraud and criminal impersonations.

“In response to a number of substantive messages I have received from many of you [Rockland residents], coupled with details of alleged voter fraud and improprieties that included specific details of the criminal impersonation of our County Board of Election officials, I today formally requested that our District Attorney initiate a criminal investigation to the extent it is warranted as determined by his office,” Day wrote.

Meanwhile, State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski called for the state Board of Elections to launch an “immediate investigation” into alleged improprieties.