Why was a Village of Dering Harbor resident denied the right to have her ballot counted in June 2013 election?
Deybis Rodriguez, a part-time resident who maintains her voting registration on Shelter Island, has been trying to find out since she said Village Clerk Laura Hildreth refused to put her ballot in the box where other voters’ votes were being placed to be counted.
She’s considering legal action against the village and her companion, James Goldman, is calling for the resignation of the mayor, members of the Village Board of Trustees and the village clerk. Mr. Goldman claims the village officials were complicit in “using their powers to regulate the ballot box and take away peoples” right to vote.”
Ms. Rodriguez wrote to Mayor Tim Hogue and Village Attorney Joseph Prokop. She also sent letters to the New York State Board of Elections and Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. But after almost a year, she still doesn’t know why her ballot wasn’t counted and how to protect her voting rights.
By law, a voter can be challenged at the polling site, wrote Anna Svizzero, director of election 0perations for the State Board of Elections. But the process of the challenge is supposed to be done when the voter checks in to cast a ballot, “not at the ballot box after a ballot has been officially delivered to the voter,” Ms. Svizzero said.
The New York State Election Law pertaining to village elections states that a voter who is denied the right to cast a ballot must be told the reason, but Ms. Rodriguez said she wasn’t given a reason when she tried to cast her ballot and hasn’t been given any justification since.
The Suffolk County election monitor, Vincent Cunningham, checked her identification and that of her “significant other,” James Goldman, and handed them both ballots, Ms. Rodriguez said.
“My companion dropped his ballot in the box but Village Clerk Laura Hildreth took my ballot, saying that she had been instructed to set it aside and to not count my vote,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “I know my vote was never counted,” she said.
Ms. Hildreth refused comment, referring the question to Mr. Prokop.
Mr. Prokop, who was at the polling place on the day of the balloting, refused comment, noting Mr. Goldman had raised the possibility of litigation, something Ms. Rodriquez this week confirmed remains a possibility.
In October, when Mr. Goldman, toward the end of a Village Board meeting, questioned why Ms. Rodriguez hadn’t had her ballot counted, he was told by Mr. Hogue, “This is not an appropriate matter for this meeting,” according to a Reporter account of the session.
But the mayor did say that neither he nor the trustees were responsible for the election process and that decisions were made by those on site at the polls. He later said he was referring to the village clerk, two residents appointed by the Board of Trustees to act as poll inspectors, another poll inspector experienced in supervising town elections and the village’s legal counsel, Mr. Prokop.
Asked again last week about the issue, the mayor said he preferred not to comment.
Mr. Prokop said that village elections are run by inspectors, not the village and he further expressed surprise that it was Mr. Goldman, not Ms. Rodriguez, who brought the issue of her vote up at the October meeting.
In a November letter to Ms. Rodriguez, Mr. Prokop wrote that he reviewed voting procedures and concluded that “all aspects of the Village Election held on June 18, 2013, were conducted in accordance with the applicable laws, rules and regulations.”
Those regulations are unclear. The Suffolk County Board of Elections said the village regulates its own elections and the county has no role, other than to provide a list of registered voters and, if appropriate, to flag the name of any voter that the county has reason should be questioned.
Ms. Rodriguez is a registered voter in Dering Harbor and her name is not flagged, said Cathy Schatzger, a spokeswoman for the County Board of Elections.
Ms. Rodriguez acknowledged that she and Mr. Goldman maintain other residences and spend about 45 days a year in Dering Harbor, as is the case with many village residents. But she opted, as Mr. Goldman did, to make Dering Harbor her voting residence.
Since the county doesn’t oversee Dering Harbor’s elections, Ms. Schatzger said only village officials would be in a position to explain why her vote was counted and what recourse she would have to protest the actions she said occurred during last June’s election. But they’re not talking
Ms. Svizzero, with the State Board of Elections, has suggested Ms. Rodriguez share her complaint with the New York State Conference of Mayors in Albany. That group provides legal advice and operational guidance to villages about how they conduct elections, she said.
Ms. Svizzero also suggested that villagers concerned with how Dering Harbor conducts elections could seek a resolution to transfer the conduct of those elections to the county.
“In that way, Election Day procedures will be consistent with election law and with the overall election process with which voters are already familiar,” Ms. Svizzero said.