A Third Board of Elections Investigation

September 25, 2006
Within recent weeks, the Rockland Board of Elections has been asked to review three separate cases of possible illegal interference in this year’s primary and last year’s race for Ramapo Supervisor. First, it was reported in the beginning of September that there was the possible coercion of residents at the New Monsey Park Home for Adults. This investigation branched out after State officials visited the residence (see story here). The next problem occurred on Election Day with the BOE finally sending out personnel from the Sheriff’s Department to check on those signing up early voters for ice-cream makers. That investigation was handed over to the District Attorney (story here).

And now, Preserve Ramapo has sent a copy of a gift card handed out at a New Square polling place last November. The card offers an incentive that could possibly violate two election laws as well as IRS legislation that prohibits religious organizations from becoming directly involved in campaigns.

Translation (checked with 3 sources):
Gift Privilege Card
Vote (Election) Committee of the Village of New Square
For Election Day Tuesday along with date of election
Thank you very much and our expression of gratitude for coming to vote for the general good of the community
Bottom two lines in black box: With this card, your child will be eligible for a gift, tomorrow, Wednesday, in the school where he/she learns.

We were able to get a copy of the card because of the presence of one of our volunteers. On election night, last November (2005) in the Supervisor’s race for Ramapo, Preserve Ramapo sent a credentialed poll watcher to New Square. This is what he saw that evening:

As the people came in and after they voted, they either were automatically given a card or they asked for their card.

I later found out that they were told that if they voted (they did not tell me who they were supposed to vote for, though 99% voted for the Democratic line–St. Lawrence and the incumbent board members), they could bring the card back to the rabbi and they would get a gift. What the gift was, I was not told.

I asked for a card, and they gave me one.

There are three possible violations here. First, you are not allowed to do any kind of electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place during an election. No campaigning, no soliciting, no nothing. At a polling place in this year’s primary, we were told by BOE officials that if voters brought any printed material into the polling place it had to be out of sight or it would be confiscated.

Second, the involvement of the schools raises the question of the tax-exempt status of the religious organizations and the ban on political involvement for a candidate or party. This is perhaps a matter for the IRS instead of the BOE. Just last week there was an AP story about an investigation of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena and its involvement in the last presidential election.

Third, and the most obviously troubling part of this story, is that the people working the polling station were handing out the cards. This is a key issue that the Board will have to look at. A representative has told us they will turn these allegations over to the State.

Where We Are Now
It has only been a few days, so we are waiting to follow up after contact is made by the agencies involved. We will continue to update this story as it goes forward. If there’s limited information made available after the investigation, we will use FOIA requests as we have in the past with the Town of Ramapo, Rockland County Sewer Commission, etc. We have also made this information available to other government agencies.

As to what can be done in the future to avoid these kinds of problems, we have begun discussions directed toward involving other governmental agencies in the next election for Town Supervisor (Nov. 2007).

Michael Castelluccio