(Update – as of Wednesday morning the town has appealed the ruling)
New vote ordered by Justice Garvey
Supreme Court Justice Margaret Garvey has ordered a new vote on the Ward-system referendum in Ramapo.
Judge Garvey ruled that incorrect and misleading information had been distributed regarding absentee ballot rules and voting eligibility standards by the Town of Ramapo and a revote is the only means to rectify the situation.
Garvey criticized the Town of Ramapo for sending out information to voters that stated absentee ballots received within seven day after the September 30, 2014 referendum would be accepted as long as they were postmarked by September 29. According to town law all such ballots need to be received by 5 p.m. the evening of an election. The Town of Ramapo offered to allow ballots that arrived late to be counted, but the judge dismissed this as illegal.
“It is this Court’s opinion that the mistake that was admittedly made by Respondent TOWN OF RAMAPO, more specifically Respondent CHRISTIAN SAMPSON as Ramapo Town Clerk, in the preparation and dissemination of the absentee ballot application that included a procedure for canvassing absentee ballots that directly contravenes Town Law 9 84-a(8), is so egregious and fundamental to the special town election process that it cannot be rectified with any Order of this Court directing procedures for the counting of the absentee ballots, i.e. those received prior to 5 p.m. on September 30,2014, or those postmarked by September 29, 2014 and received within seven days of the election.”
On the matter of registration requirements, when the Ramapo Town Board passed a resolution on August 21 to create the special referendum it included a line: “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that potentially eligible voters may register to vote at the Rockland County Board of Elections on or before September 23, 2014.”
This led plaintiffs and pro-Ward vote referendum leaders Robert Romanowski and Michael Parietti to disseminate information indicating that persons needed to be registered voters to vote in the referendum. In fact, registration with the Board of Elections is not necessary in town referendum elections (or school district elections).
The town said they were attempting to encourage folks to register to vote because unregistered voters needed to vote via affidavit, a potentially time-consuming process. Judge Garvey pointed out that as a result of the language, potentially thousands of persons were dissuaded from voting.
Judge Garvey further ruled, “Inquiries were made to Respondent TOWN OF RAMAPO and Respondent CHRISTIAN SAMPSON to clarify the issue, and the response was not given until the very morning of the election.”
Garvey said there are no means to legally rectify the problems created by the two mistakes and only a revote would be fair to the residents of Ramapo.
The revote has yet to be scheduled.