Update: The Ward Petition Vote

January 25, 2015

 

Here is a quick recap and update on the status of the Ward Referendum.

 

Background

After a two year legal battle, the State Supreme Court finally ordered Ramapo to schedule the referendum on the Ward System. Shortly thereafter, the Town passed a resolution setting the Referendum Voting Date for Sept. 30, 2014, and among other things, the Town announced that people interested in voting "may register with the Rockland County Board of Elections on or before September, 23rd." Repeated phone calls and FOIA (Freedom of Information) requests to the Town Clerk to clarify the rules of the referendum were never returned or answered.

 

On the day of the election people who had voted by mail with absentee ballots had been told that even though the ballots stated on its face that any ballot mailed by the day of the election and received within 7 days would be counted, Ramapo was not going to count any ballots not received by the day of the referendum.

 

Late in the afternoon on the day before the vote, we heard through the grapevine that the Town was going to allow unregistered voters to cast ballots, providing that they simply sign an affidavit stating that they had resided in the town for at least 30 days. Upon hearing this, we immediately phoned and emailed the Town Clerk, Christian Sampson, requesting clarification on who would be allowed to vote. Those requests were ignored. A few minutes before 5 pm, Bob Rhodes and Tony Luciano arrived at Town Hall and confronted Town Clerk Christian Sampson demanding that he clarify the ground rules of the referendum including who would be allowed to vote. Sampson stated that he was too busy to answer any questions and said he would get back to them "later".

 

We were particularly concerned by these developments because St. Lawrence had already announced in advance of the referendum that poll watchers would not be permitted in the polling locations.

 

We should point out that all of the many poll workers we spoke with afterwards stated that they were never told in the training sessions for the referendum vote that unregistered people would be allowed to vote, let alone what the procedure would be for unregistered voting. Poll workers told us they found out that unregistered people would be allowed to vote on the day of the referendum, at various times from mid-morning until early evening.

 

For the reasons stated above, as well as confusion about when the absentee ballots needed to be received at the clerk’s office, we decided to go back to court. Working through the night and into the next day we put together our legal papers, with some critical eleventh hour assistance from Ernie Buoncore and Deb Seidman, and were able to reach the New City courthouse at three in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, chaos reigned at the polling places. Heavy turnout in all parts of the town, confusion about who was allowed to vote, and a surge in unregistered people attempting to cast ballots brought on an uncertain and unsettling situation at many polling locations.

 

Back in the courtroom we asked Judge Garvey to impound the affidavit and absentee ballots so they could be counted in a controlled in an equitable manner, rather than with the pell-mell free-for-all at many of the polling places. 

 

In the course of the oral argument that followed, Town Attorney Michael Klein admitted that town officials knew all along that unregistered voters would be allowed to vote in the referendum. When asked by Judge Garvey if the town had ever publicized that fact Klein replied emphatically: “No. We can’t publicize that, nor do we have an obligation to do so. Klein went on to say:” I don’t think we have done anything contrary, and we didn’t publicize the fact that people can make affidavit votes, because, you know, thousands of people come in on the day of the election and are not preregistered, it makes the process that much more crazy.” Judge Garvey's reply: "You just said it. You just said it. People that knew they could do it without being registered. You could have had thousands of people referring to the countless voters Klein essentially admitted were disenfranchised on the day of the referendum.

 

This exchange is interesting in the fact that it became apparent that the Town had tipped off ultra-religious leaders in advance that unregistered voters would be allowed to vote, as the vast majority of unregistered voters were members of that community. We heard from poll workers in those locations that the crush of unregistered people casting ballots created an atmosphere of chaos and confusion that spiraled out of control. So a “crazy” voting process was acceptable to town officials at certain polling locations but deemed to be unacceptable if the same standard of voter registration was applied to everyone.

 

At approximately 5 PM Judge Garvey ordered that all ballots--absentee, affidavit and machine--be impounded, and that no counting of any ballots would occur and that no information pertaining to the referendum would be published. The judge did allow the town a week to file formal opposition papers to her impounding order.

 

It should be noted that the Town's purchasing agent, Mona Montal seemed to play a central role in orchestrating the referendum. This included plotting strategy, establishing the ground rules, and cracking the whip on favored developers and contractors to raise over $170,000 to fund an elaborate disinformation campaign against the ward system which included television and radio commercials along with numerous mailings.

 

On Oct. 8th, shortly after the town submitted their opposition papers, Judge Garvey invalidated the entire referendum.  She found that the town had accidentally, or perhaps even deliberately, irreparably disenfranchised voters through egregious misconduct in publishing official town resolutions that contained misleading and contradictory information. The Judge then ordered the town to schedule a revote.

 

As is their custom, of course, the Town appealed the court’s decision. Under normal circumstances they would have been permitted a full six months to perfect the appeal and file their papers. However, in this case, the Appellate Division ordered the town to perfect and file the appeal by Dec. 3rd, and the Town did submit papers by that date.  However, they failed to include the transcript of the oral arguments that ensued during the September 30th court hearing in their Record on Appeal, which is essentially a catalogue of all the legal papers pertaining to the case.  They obviously omitted the transcript from the record because it is a clear indictment of the town officials who conducted the referendum.

 

In response, our attorney filed a motion asking the court to require the Town to include the oral argument transcript in the record. We are currently waiting for the Appellate Division to rule on that motion. Once that happens we will file our own arguments in response to the Town’s appeal. It is hard to say how or when the Appellate Division will rule, but events will likely play out over the next few months.  We will keep you posted.

 

Links to the court transcript and Judge Garvey’s decision can be found below.

 

We want to thank everyone who supported us in the Ward Referendum as well as everyone who helped to get the vote out.  We deeply appreciate the countless people who worked hard to protect our democratic right to representation on the town board.  We give special thanks to Betty Carmand who oversaw our efforts for the ward vote in eastern Ramapo and Deb Seidman whose Vote6Wards did so much to turn out the vote in Western Ramapo, as well as Jim Barnard who spread the word at a number of events in northern Ramapo.

For a copy of the Court Transcript (record of the arguments) click here. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1509118-9-30-14-parietti-v-ramapo-signed.html

For a copy of Judge Garvey’s decision click here. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1509117-judge-garveys-decision-and-order-october.html

Mike Parietti

Bob Romanowski